"Brexit must mean leaving
the EU single market ..
Brexit does not best serve
the national interest."
2018 February 19
The West Will Fall
Immigration has cast dark clouds over Europe. The West has opened the way for the decline of Christian culture and Islamic expansion. Nations will
cease to exist, the West will fall, and Europeans will not even notice that Europe has been overrun.
Christianity is our last hope. If hundreds of millions of young people are allowed to move north, there will be enormous pressure on Europe. In the
big cities there will be Muslim majorities.
Hungary is the last bastion against the Islamization of Europe. My administration has prevented the Islamic world from flooding Hungary from the
south. I pledged our solidarity with those European people and leaders who want to save their country and their Christian culture.
Germany and France called for Europe to stand on its own two feet militarily.
Permanent Structured Cooperation (Pesco) is an EU attempt to forge closer defense ties: 25 member states have signed up to 17 projects ranging from
improving military mobility to developing a new infantry fighting vehicle.
German defense minister Ursula von der Leyen said 2016 was a wake-up call for Pesco and the European Defence Fund, which coordinates spending on
defense research and military procurement: "We want to remain transatlantic, but at the same time become more European."
US secretary of defense Jim Mattis praised European moves to increase defense spending and applauded Germany for taking its military responsibilities
more seriously: "You see a much more engaged Germany today than you and I could've guessed even five years ago."
NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said EU efforts risk "weakening the transatlantic bond .. duplicating what NATO is already doing
and .. discriminating against non-EU members of the NATO alliance" when "80% of NATO defense spending will come from non-EU allies" after Brexit.
AR I propose a new NATO mission: impose military control on immigration into Europe.
2018 February 18
The Kremlin Candidate
The indictment announced Friday in the Mueller investigation told a compelling and detailed crime story. Russian attempts to sabotage the American
presidential election were probably successful in their effort to influence the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States.
A Cognitive Elite
America has systematically tried to put cosmopolitanism into practice. If cosmopolitanism works, America should not
be showing the multiple social pathologies described by Charles Murray in his seminal book
Coming Apart. Murray warns that a cognitive
elite formed at America's most selective colleges has lost all touch with the mass of ordinary Americans.
We should stop Brexit to save the National Health Service. Even contempt for experts cannot obscure the evidence that the Brexit vote has already damaged
the NHS and will inflict future harm on it. We can either take the increasingly plain risks and costs of leaving the EU or have the stability, growth, and
revenues vital for crucial public services like the NHS and social care.
We hear strident calls from those who want to close down debate and silence discussion over the disaster that Brexit appears to be. I will not be silenced
and will do all I can to support groups such as Best for Britain who seek to engage people
across the country and make the case for Britain to lead, not leave Europe. The Best for Britain campaign will inform and engage a broad electorate across
Britain and seek to end the slow motion car crash that we are seeing right before our eyes.
Victorian philosopher John Stuart Mill is remembered as the author of On Liberty.
He said there should be no interference with the thought, speech, or action of anyone except on the grounds of the prevention of harm to others. He said
individuals were the best judges of their own good.
The argument is utilitarian. His suggestion that liberal rights are suitable only for societies that have reached a certain level of development, as
achieved after the Enlightenment in Europe, may strike us as blinkered. But it reflects the reality of the historical emergence of liberal societies.
Mill maintained that human beings had the ability to influence their own character. He viewed pleasures actively taken in the world as more valuable than
those received passively. The higher intellectual and aesthetic pleasures were to be preferred over the lower animal pleasures.
Mill also worried about the growth of equality. Deference to the majority on political matters led to deference to the majority on questions of value,
leading to mediocrity and the debasement of high ideals. With democracy came the danger of a descent into populism and cultural decline.
Former commander of US nuclear forces General James Cartwright on nuclear weapons
German defense minister
Ursula von der Leyen
If Brexit does its worst, and
Britain sags in relevance, those
who suspect George Soros of a
plot to overturn the referendum
come to pine for the days
when global tycoons thought
this country worth
Works of Love
"You shall love your
neighbor as yourself"
No one escapes this command.
If you come as close to a life of
self-love as is possible, your
neighbor is there too, as fatally
to self-love as possible.
The only escape is to banish
your neighbor, out
of your life.
Yoga nude — how else?
The Heart of Conrad
Joseph Conrad was much more than a novelist of adventure, a chronicler of the issues that haunted his time, or a writer who dramatized moral questions.
For novelists who deal with isolation, solitude, hesitation, and the lone self, his strategies are instructive and his techniques fascinating. He is
the great example to those who want to offer their characters a fully imagined solitude.
Joseph Conrad was born to Polish parents in the Ukraine in 1857. As a boy, he decided he wished to be a sailor. He joined the British merchant marine
and got his master's certificate in 1886, the same year that he became a British subject.
Conrad had ended his career at sea by 1894. He published his first novel in 1895. For each book he wrote, Conrad found a new system of narration. Since
he had set his novels in both East and West, in Malaya and London and South America and Africa, it is easy to see him as a global writer.
When he was asked why he didn't write in Polish, the great English novelist replied: "I value too much our beautiful Polish literature to introduce into
it my worthless twaddle. But for Englishmen my capacities are just sufficient: they enable me to earn my living."
2018 February 17
France is again playing a leading role in Europe. This is a good thing: Neither Europe nor Germany can accept German dominance for long. What is
happening is a correction.
For France, security policy and military engagement are a practical necessity. Under President Macron, defense spending will rise steadily in the
Munich Security Conference: Ursula von der Leyen and Florence Parly, the defense ministers of Germany and France, kicked off the proceedings.
Von der Leyen said Europe should put more military weight on the scales. The European Defense Union shows the political will to work on a European army.
Joint development programs are planned for drones, tanks, and fighter jets.
Parly said a robust European defense begins with efforts at home. France will devote 2% of GNP to defense by 2025. A comprehensive weapons modernization
will include conventional and nuclear capabilities. A new aircraft carrier alone will cost at least €5 billion.
Von der Leyen presented an investment program of €130 billion for arms by 2030. But the the plan is not anchored in the new coalition agreement.
At present defense remains at 1.24% of GDP.
Parly said Europe must develop a strategic culture with the aim of achieving a shared awareness of the situation, a shared analysis, and a shared
action plan — a shared action doctrine.
2018 February 16
Germany is slowly but steadily taking on more responsibility in world affairs. Over the past decade, Berlin has abolished conscription, professionalized
its armed forces, and raised defense spending. German soldiers are currently engaged in more than a dozen foreign missions.
The new German approach to defense and security is in part a response to a new political reality. At a time when the United States is showing more
reluctance than ever to be the guarantor of European security, Berlin is under pressure to take on more of the burden.
The outbreak of hostilities in Ukraine caught all NATO countries unprepared. In the years since reunification, the Bundeswehr had absorbed massive
budget cuts and prepared for entirely different military scenarios and tasks. The notion of confronting Russia seemed fanciful.
Political leaders support a stronger Bundeswehr in principle. But last week, the coalition agreement put defense policy far down its list of priorities.
With the German economy set for continued expansion, the defense budget will still be less than 1.5% of GDP in 2022. The NATO target is 2%.
The British idea of an Empire 2.0 after Brexit is wrong. Australia is seeking to become a republic.
Australians have flirted with the idea of becoming a republic before, and over half of voters support jettisoning the House of Windsor. Both Bill Shorten
and Malcolm Turnbull, the respective party leaders, are staunch republicans.
Prime minister Turnbull plans to reopen the question when the second Elizabethan age ends.
A majority of Canadians believe that Canada should end its ties to the UK monarchy. But they divide on what comes after. The monarchy is written into
the constitution and any change requires a constitutional amendment with unanimous support of the provinces.
Assuming all the provinces agreed to change the constitution, Canada could become a republic. But any elected president would decide that they had the
democratic legitimacy to act on their own discretion in exercising their powers.
2018 February 15
Maybe the laws of quantum physics let the future influence the present. Retrocausality could save us from nonlocality and lets us make quantum mechanics
consistent with general relativity.
The fundamental laws of physics work the same going backwards or forwards. This is time-reversal symmetry. If quantum physics has time-reversal symmetry,
retrocausality seems to follow.
General relativity undoes the concept of now. Our perception that time passes is due to our limited perspective on the world. Past, present, and future
form an eternal block. In a block universe, quantum retrocausality would be less strange.
We need a new version of quantum theory that incorporates the block universe to allow for retrocausality. A theory of quantum physics applies over all
of spacetime, all at once. If quantum uncertainty keeps features of the quantum world persistently hidden from us, we may still be unable to send signals
to the past.
Randomness in quantum physics becomes an illusion that appears because we only see part of the picture at once. If you are doing a sudoku puzzle and you
start on one side, it looks as if you are seeing random events. But if you look at the whole thing at once, you can see a unique solution from the
global constraints on the whole grid.
Retrocausality might lead to a theory of quantum gravity. What happens here and now could have effects far away in space and past time that only make
sense in the block universe.
Quantum contextuality is a different new idea. Contextuality says the outcomes of quantum experiments depend on what other experiments are done at
the same time.
AR These are hard, nutty ideas. Retrocausality dates back at least to Feynman and his speculations on advanced and
retarded waves in EM theory. I mooted the sudoku analogy a few years ago but saw no way to translate it into quantum formalism.
2018 February 14
Some in the British political society are against the truth, pretending that I am stupid, stubborn federalist. I am strictly against a European
superstate and always have been. I do not understand why some people insist on saying otherwise.
We are not the United States of America. We are the EU. The EU cannot build against its nations.
I fear that some people are becoming ever more determined to stop Brexit and to frustrate the will of the people. I believe that would be a disastrous
mistake that would lead to permanent and ineradicable feelings of betrayal. We cannot and will not let it happen.
Brexit is not grounds for fear but hope. It is not good enough to say to remainers, you lost, get over it, because we must accept that many are actuated
by noble sentiments, a sense of solidarity with our European neighbours and a desire for the UK to succeed.
The economic benefits of membership are nothing like as conspicuous or irrefutable as is sometimes claimed. It is only by taking back control of our
regulatory framework and our tariff schedules that we can do deals and exploit changes in the world economy.
AR Frustrating the will of Boris to damage the British economy in his attempt to impose an imperialist fantasy of world
exploitation strikes me as the patriotic duty of any UK citizen who has the real interests of this island people at heart.
Given the known defects of the Brexit referendum campaign and the fact that voters split about half and half on the question, most statisticians
would say the result was null, a mere arithmetical win, and no real basis for policy.
George Soros is accused of being involved in a "secret plot" to persuade British voters to abandon Brexit.
When the populist governments in Hungary and Poland select as their public enemy George Soros, a Jewish financial speculator, and accuse him of being
the puppeteer behind a conspiracy to undermine their democracy, Jews are nervous.
A common theme in such theories is that Jews are citizens of nowhere, forever plotting world domination. To be made exiles, as was the Hungarian-born
George Soros and as were my parents, and then to be accused of rootlessness is surely the ultimate irony.
The idea on the populist left and right that there is an international elite, resting on global capital, hanging out in Davos, working to frustrate
the interests of the people, is false. Davos is a boring conference where people sit on panels and talk about corporate policy on climate change.
George Soros is just a rich guy paying for some leaflets about Brexit.
AR Soros studied in the philosophy department founded by Karl Popper at LSE. I did too, between stints at Oxford, so I
feel a natural solidarity with him.
2018 February 13
The King of Debt
The New York Times
President Trump has sent Congress a $4.4 trillion budget proposal that would add almost $1 trillion to the federal deficit next year and $7 trillion
over the next 10 years.
Trump the businessman once called himself the "king of debt" and his budget request is seen as a vision statement.
President Trump has proposed a 2019 budget. Combined with the tax cuts Republicans passed last year, it would amount to one of the greatest transfers
of wealth from the poor to the rich in generations. It would also charge trillions of dollars in new debt to future Americans.
The proposal would raise military spending by 14% while cutting funding for the State Department by 27%. It would cut the Department of Health and
Human Services by 20% and the Department of Education by 10%. It proposes cutting food stamps by around 30% over 10 years. Medicare and Medicaid are
targeted for cuts of hundreds of billions of dollars.
His budget also recommends slashing funding for Amtrak and grant programs for highway and transit projects. He has announced a separate
infrastructure proposal to bolster investment by $1.5 trillion over 10 years. But he says the federal government will put up only $200 billion and
get state and local governments and the private sector to pay the rest. Really?
Evolutionary Arms Races
Evolution suggests that over time, only one species should occupy an ecological niche. Yet ecosystems routinely include many competing species
that stably coexist.
The "kill the winner" (KTW) hypothesis is that predator-prey relationships are often species specific. As one species starts forcing out its competitors,
its predators prosper too, until predation pushes the number of prey back down again. Several rival species can coexist in equilibrium.
Astrobiologists looked closely at the KTW idea in 2015. The models used to validate the KTW idea allowed populations to rebound even after plummeting
to fractions of individuals. In more realistic models, fluctuating prey populations kept dropping to zero and species coexistence disappeared.
Including evolution allowed arms races between prey and predators. Prey species got better at evading predators and predators got better at
catching prey. Competition added more species diversity, the KTW effects kept any one species from taking over, and biodiversity flourished.
Space scientists sending future probes to seek signs of life on the moons of Jupiter and Saturn should hope to see the biochemical signatures
of an entire ecosystem.
2018 February 12
Great Power Politics
Davos man is a global superclass of economic transnationals. They made their fortunes through the globalization of the international economy and saw
national governments as residues from the past. The Davos worldview captured the minds of many in the political class.
The weakening of the Davos model of progress is in part the product of historical forces. President Trump illustrates a profound shift. An age of
relative equipoise between world powers is morphing into an era in which interstate competition will be pursued more nakedly.
There is no evidence that Trump has matured into the role of president or developed a more refined understanding of a complex world. His claim that it
was time for America to start winning again spoke to a growing status anxiety in the American psyche. His administration plans to weaponize aid and
trade in pursuit of the national interest.
The Chinese One Belt and One Road initiative announced in 2013 aims to create a new Silk Road across the Eurasian landmass plus a maritime equivalent
through to the Mediterranean. The initiative secures Chinese interests and influence across a vast geographical expanse. For China, ultimate power
still resides with the nation state.
The British national interest is to see the preservation of a rules-based international order in which trade flows freely. The UK cannot just pull
up the drawbridge.
2018 February 11
Elon Musk is said to be worth about $20 billion. He started SpaceX in 2002 and plans to establish a colony on Mars. Via Tesla he is the world
leader in battery technology.
SpaceX has big contracts to deliver payloads to the International Space Station. Its Falcon Heavy rocket is built to save and make money. Its
reusable boosters avoid the need to build new ones for every launch.
Musk says he is "nauseatingly pro-American" and the United States is "the greatest country that has ever existed on Earth" — "the greatest
force for good of any country that's ever been."
2018 February 10
Freedom of Conscience
Conscience is a human trait. The idea of conscience is found in Plato as self-awareness, a capacity for self-appraisal. The Torah regards moral
conscience as universal, at least among those who respect and cultivate it in themselves.
Beyond that, conscience is remarkably chimerical. People who believe that an unconstrained capitalism will yield the best of all possible worlds
might earnestly regret the disruptions involved in it. We are all indebted to legions of strangers.
There are taboos in history. Perhaps the famous stand of Winston Churchill in 1940 amounted to little more than waiting for the colonies and the
United States to step in. His Iron Curtain speech in 1946 reads like a declaration of war, offering the British Empire as de facto encirclement
of the Soviet Union and urging Americans to sustain what Britain could not.
A little wisdom on our part might have spared the world much grief and disaster, present and to come. To consider the possibility would be a
significant act of conscience. Freedom of conscience is more profoundly inhibited by prejudice and taboo than it is by laws and institutions.
AR "Churchill dragged US into hot and cold wars" — discuss.
SpaceX Falcon Heavy launches
Tesla Roadster into solar
orbit near Mars
Poole Bay today
Nuclear Policy Review
United States DoD
Hylas and the Nymphs
Apple says revenues for 2018
Q1 will be $61±1 billion. It had
$163 billion in cash,
net of its
$122 billion in debt, at the end
of 2017, and expects to pay
$38 billion to the US government
on its offshore cash pile as a
result of the tax reform.
"Let's call the whole thing off."
2018 February 9
Fascism and Humanism
Liberals in Europe and America are in a panic. They are issuing urgent warnings about the return of populism and nationalism, the decay of
international institutions, the pollution of the public sphere by lies and propaganda. Meanwhile, the public votes for Brexit in the UK,
nationalists in Hungary and Poland, and Trump in the United States.
Rob Riemen has spent his life bringing liberal intellectuals together to talk about the great problems of the day. His new book includes an
essay titled "The Eternal Return of Fascism" and a fable titled "The Return of Europa" on the future of Europe. He believes there is nothing
wrong with Europe that the best traditions of Europe cannot cure.
Anyone who invokes the Judeo-Christian tradition in Europe today is likely to be seen as a conservative or an Islamophobe. Riemen attacks
the idea that earning a lot of money is the most important thing in life. He advocates spiritual and moral training, living in truth, doing
what is right, creating beauty, and other such radiantly vague ideas.
Riemen believes that Europe once had a rich and ennobling culture and that it can only survive by returning to that elite cultural regime.
The real source of fascism, he believes, is a society in which nothing is absolute and everything is transitory. He thinks people are
content with pleasure where they should be striving for nobility of spirit.
2018 February 8
Quantum computing is noisy, with random fluctuations and errors. When a quantum computer executes an action, in every computer cycle there is some
probability that a qubit will get corrupted. Quantum error correction will require hundreds of physical qubits to represent a single logical qubit
of very high quality.
I tried to model what happens if the errors due to noise are correlated. Interacting systems will have a tendency for errors to be correlated,
raising the probability that errors will affect many qubits all at once. I studied what kind of correlations emerge from complicated quantum
computations and what kind of correlations will cause a quantum computer to fail.
Guy Kindler and I calculated that the noise in a quantum computer will kill all the high-frequency waves in the Fourier decomposition of a complex
waveform. We found good reasons to think that noise levels cannot be reduced far enough to demonstrate quantum supremacy and quantum error
correction. Noisy quantum computers in the small and intermediate scale are too primitive to reach quantum supremacy, and so creating quantum
error-correcting codes, which is harder, is also impossible.
Our critics say we draw conclusions about engineering of physical devices from considerations about computation and that we use insights of the
theory of computation that are usually applied to large systems. They say the engineering difficulties are not fundamental barriers, and that with
sufficient hard work and resources, the noise can be driven down to as close to zero as needed. But I think the effort required to obtain a low
enough error level for any implementation of universal quantum circuits increases exponentially with the number of qubits.
So I think useful quantum computers are impossible.
2018 February 7
Back to the Future
Elon Musk has successfully launched the most powerful rocket in the world. Its payload was a Tesla Roadster with a dummy astronaut called Starman at the
wheel, the David Bowie song "Space Oddity" on the stereo, the Douglas Adams quote "Don't panic" on the sat-nav screen, and the Isaac Asimov "Foundation"
text in the glove box.
Starman in orbit (1:59)
A huge crowd cheered as a Falcon Heavy rocket powered by 27 engines, delivering up to 23 MN of thrust, thundered away from Kennedy Space Center in Florida
yesterday on a test flight that opens the door to future missions to the Moon, Mars, and beyond.
Elon Musk spent $90 million on the test. Its payload was his old red Tesla Roadster car, with a dummy astronaut at the wheel, on a journey
to reach an Earth−Mars orbit around the Sun.
In the VIP viewing area the guests included Buzz Aldrin, who in 1969 walked on the Moon. Now aged 88, he tweeted: "It's a beautiful day
for a rocket launch from my favourite launchpad."
Bob Giffen played a key role on the NASA launch team for all the Apollo moonshots and 88 space shuttle launches: "This guy Elon Musk, he has my total
respect. Thanks to what he's been doing, soon we can go back to the Moon, we can seriously think about going to Mars .. This is a big step back to where
● Elon Musk is a billionaire who hopes to die on Mars. On Earth, he wants to solve traffic congestion
by sending cars through tunnels at 250 km/h. He aims to connect the human brain to computers to combat the mortal threat of runaway AI. He has already
reinvigorated interest in the space race, made electric cars aspirational, and transformed internet payments through his companies SpaceX, Tesla, and
Paypal. At 46, he is a perfectionist with a big ego and has six kids.
Brain Zaps Boost Memory
For decades, neuroscientists have been treating movement and neurological disorders with deep brain stimulation. They have typically targeted the medial
temporal lobe and hippocampus, which carry out critical functions that enable the formation and retrieval of memories. In most cases, the stimulation
either disrupted or had no effect on memory performance.
Now researchers have enhanced memory by stimulating the left lateral temporal cortex. Although the region seems less central to memory, stimulating it
yields better results. The hippocampus and medial temporal lobe are buried deep inside the brain, whereas the lateral temporal cortex is on the surface
of the brain, so is an easier target for interventions.
Thomas L. Friedman
Israelis have the wind at their backs. They've built an awesome high-tech industry, and everyone's kid seems to work for a start-up. Even Israeli Arabs
have caught the bug. Regionally, the Arabs and Palestinians have never been weaker, and under President Trump, Israel has never had a more unquestioningly
friendly United States.
Everywhere I look today I see people going all the way.
2018 February 6
The UK government has already made a crucial concession to the EU. It has agreed that there will not be a hard border on the island of Ireland. The only
way to avoid customs and other checks at the Irish border is to maintain a large degree of regulatory and customs alignment with the EU27.
A soft exit from the EU is more likely to come about by logistical reality than by the views of MPs. The UK wants to maintain both the Good Friday
Agreement and the open border between the Republic and Northern Ireland. These objectives are inconsistent with a hard break from the EU.
Perhaps politicians seeking a hard Brexit can force negotiations to a halt or force an Irish government veto on any deal. If they can, then we are heading
for the hardest of exits and likely a chaotic one. Otherwise, UK participation in some form of customs union with the EU is inevitable.
Researchers have determined the density of the seven Trappist 1 planets. The system is 39 light years away and the central star is a red dwarf. All the
planets consist mainly of rock, but Trappist 1e has about the size, density, and warmth as the Earth, allowing liquid water on it surface.
The Trappist 1 planets are so close that if you were to stand on one of them, neighboring planets would look about as big in the sky as our Moon. At least
five of them have water in some form on the surface. The NASA James Webb space telescope should tell us more.
2018 February 5
Our generation is set to receive the worst inheritance in peacetime history. The NHS limps from crisis to crisis. The housing market excludes us further
each day. We go to university at the cost of a huge debt. We live in a capitalist economy without capital. Over 1 in 5 young people now think their life
will amount to nothing.
Brexit is by far the worst aspect of our inheritance. It will make us poorer, cut us off from our friends, and leave us unable to address problems that
require international cooperation to solve. It will deprive us of the right to live, work, and love anywhere in Europe. Over 3 in 4 of young people voted
Jeremy, we need your help to persuade the country to stop Brexit and deliver the radical change we need.
AR Conservatives ignore such desperation at their peril.
Some cosmologists say the Big Bang might instead have been a Big Bounce. Perhaps the universe expands and contracts cyclically, or perhaps it only
bounced once. Either way, time is endless into the past and future.
In two new bouncing models, a period of slow contraction of the universe explains its smoothness and flatness, without the need for inflation. To match
its present uniformity, the baby universe, when it was 1 cm across, must have had the same density everywhere to within 10 parts per million.
In the inflation scenario, the baby came from the exponential expansion of an initial speck measuring no more than 10^−22 m across. As long as
that speck was infused with an inflaton field that was smooth and flat, the speck would have inflated into a smooth universe like ours.
In a bouncing model, a substance with negative energy could push everything apart against gravity. But adding negative energy makes the model
Anna Ijjas has found a bounce mechanism, a scalar field that would have braided itself into the gravitational field in a way that exerted negative
pressure on the universe, reversing the contraction. The contracting universe bounces and starts expanding again before ever shrinking to a point.
The bounce avoids a singularity and can be described by general relativity.
The second new model, proposed by Peter Graham, David Kaplan, and Surjeet Rajendran, puts a spin on the universe. Imagine 3 or more extra compact dimensions
forming tiny loops. As the universe contracts, matter and energy can start spinning inside them, and the dimensions themselves will spin with the matter
and energy. Apparently, vorticity in the extra dimensions can suddenly initiate a bounce.
In a third model, a bounce might occur when a universe contracts all the way to a singularity, when unknown quantum laws of gravity take over. No one
knows whether this model can match the observed cosmos.
AR A nonsingular bounce spares us the inflationary multiverse, but a quantum multiverse remains. I think the latter is
spurious, but I cannot prove it.
The UK government underfunds the health service and cuts council funding for adult social care. By 2050, 1 in 4 of us will be over 65. Yet for many people,
a combination of insecure work and a punitive and arbitrary benefits system makes the idea of planning for the future look like a sick joke.
Half a million people over the age of 60 spend most days in complete solitude. Half of all people aged 75 or over live alone. Loneliness and isolation
increase the risk of developing conditions that might require residential care.
Cohousing was invented in Scandinavia and is now spreading elsewhere. The idea is to form intentional communities of households, each with a self-contained,
private home, plus a shared community space. Let us build our visions of later life on imagination and hope.
AR I live in such a community.
2018 February 4
The Sunday Times
Conservative MPs warn prime minister Theresa May she will face a coup to install a dream team of three Brexiteers if she persists with plans to keep
the UK in a customs union with the EU.
Europhobes urged their dream prime minister Boris Johnson to appoint Michael Gove as his deputy prime minister and Jacob Rees-Mogg as his chancellor if
May is forced out.
Johnson says he is ready for a fight and the cavalry is coming to block the customs union plan when the Brexit war cabinet meets on Wednesday.
AR I prefer the Laurel and Hardy metaphor: the Mogg as Laurel and BoJo as Hardy — "another fine mess you've gotten
Germany über alles
Some things never change. The German ambassador to London bewails the British obsession with the second world war.
Like every one of his predecessors I have known, Peter Ammon is effortlessly civilised. His modesty about German influence in the EU now seems like
deception or delusion.
When he was chancellor, Helmut Kohl said adopting the euro was the only way Germany could become the dominant economic power in Europe without
terrifying the French.
Germany expresses its power as being merely an expression of Europe. In German political discourse, the EU is portrayed as something greater,
something almost more noble, than a mere power train for German economic success.
The modern German state only became respectable as a member of the EU. German national interest can be legitimately expressed only as a triumph of
Ammon criticizes British obsession with 1940. His own politics is profoundly affected by that same period. We should see German foreign policy for
what it is.
AR Lawson has become a poisonous old toad. Seen correctly, Europe transcends both Germany and Britain. Demonising German
power today is utterly counterproductive.
2018 February 3
Brexit — A Rant
Europhobia is moving from idiocy to dishonesty.
If you're going to set a nation on a daring but risky course, you examine the options. That's what civil servants are for. There is every reason why
ministers should have wanted studies, no reason to be ashamed they exist, and every reason to be open about both the process and the results.
If you believe in Brexit, there's no shame in acknowledging that there are costs and uncertainties and you wanted to know and face up to them. You
then add that civil servants are naturally precise about costs but cautious about benefits, but that you can see the bigger, brighter picture.
Guilt is all over the pages of this contemptible Tory story. Most MPs know that the referendum placed voters in an impossible position. They know
that, narrowly, the voters made a mistake. They can see too that the party is now acting against the interests of the country.
And nobody has the spine to say so.
When Peter Ammon, the outgoing German ambassador to the UK, claimed this week that Brexiteers were fixated on the second world war, he was on to something.
British nostalgia for a particular version of UK history long preceded Brexit. But he was only half right.
The Brexit vote was certainly underpinned by a melancholic longing for a glorious past, but the era it sought to relive was less the second world war than
the empire. For if memories of the war made some feel more defiant, recollections of empire made them deluded.
It was through this distorted lens — "Let's put the Great back in Great Britain" — that a majority voted to leave. Echoes of empire reverberated
through the campaign and have also framed the UK negotiating strategy. The past 18 months have been a journey from hubris to humiliation.
Theresa May is a faithful reflection not only of her government but of the country at this moment. Brexiteers have ostensibly got what they want: Brexit.
They are now finding out how little sovereignty means for a country the size of Britain in a neoliberal globalized economy.
May is no more personally to blame for the mess than Anthony Eden was for the 1956 Suez crisis. Once again, Britain has overplayed its hand. Preferring
to live in the past rather than learn from it, Brits are diminished in the present and clueless about the future.
Hylas and the Nymphs
In suggesting that #MeToo legitimizes her removal of an iconic painting from public view, Clare Gannaway insults those who contributed to that initiative.
The claim that this act is about challenging us and not about censorship is unconvincing. Such an aim would be better met by framing the work in an
exhibition that promotes productive debate.
A curator's job is to enable the public to see works and understand the historical processes of which they form a part. Nazi curators, too, challenged us
by removing art from public view because it conflicted with their political aims and puritanical taste. But few would now consider this to have been
anything other than censorship.
AR Clare Gannaway is the curator of contemporary art at the Manchester Art Gallery.
NASA: 40 Days to Mars
The Space Academy
NASA has given $10 million to Ad Astra Rocket Company of Texas to develop its Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (VASIMR).
VASIMR heats plasma to 10 MK using EM waves, then blows it out the back. It can accelerate a ship to 10 times the speed of a chemical rocket and use
10 times less fuel. With this engine, a ship could get to Mars in 40 days.
Ad Astra CEO Franklin Chang Diaz: "This is like no other rocket that you may have seen in the past. It is a plasma rocket. The VASIMR Rocket is not
used for launching things; it is used for things already in orbit. This is called in-space propulsion."
AR For starships we'll also need a fusion reactor to make the EM waves.
Graphene Power Packs
The Space Academy
Carbon atoms in a thin sheet of graphene jiggle with thermal energy. Sheets of graphene under an STM are seen to buckle like the snapping back and forth
of a twisted sheet of metal. These graphene waves can form an ambient temperature power source.
Electrodes on either side of a length of buckling graphene measure a tiny shifting voltage. A square micron patch can deliver 100 nW and a square mm
patch 100 mW. This can be enough to power a wrist watch or a medical implant indefinitely.
2018 February 2
The chemical behavior of a molecule depends on the behavior of its electrons. These exist in a superposition of many classical states, and the quantum
state of each electron depends on the states of all the others. Classically calculating these entangled states can become a nightmare of exponentially
A quantum computer can deal with the intertwined fates of the electrons under study by superposing and entangling qubits. Each qubit you add doubles
the states the system can simultaneously store. Just 50 entangled qubits could model quantum states that would require more than a quadrillion classical
bits to encode.
Qubits can be controlled with gates defined in linear algebra. Quantum gates guide qubits into a succession of superpositions and entanglements and
then measure the output. By assembling gates into logic circuits, theorists can define quantum algorithms.
In a sampling problem, the goal is to produce a series of samples that look as though they came from this circuit. Each outcome is a string of many
values, each of which may be influenced by some or all of the other values.
In 2010, Scott Aaronson and Alex Arkhipov described a quantum machine that sends photons through an optical circuit that generates output patterns
with specific probabilities. Reproducing these patterns became known as boson sampling. Aaronson and Arkhipov reasoned that boson sampling would start
to strain classical resources at around 30 photons.
In 2017, an IBM team showed how a classical supercomputer can simulate sampling from random circuits on as many as 56 qubits. But the simulation took
more than a billion times longer than a quantum computer might take. Soon the quantum contenders will achieve supremacy.
No to Hard Brexit
The pro-European movement brings people who do not want to see Brexit happen at all together with those who accept it may happen but want a soft
Brexit. What unites us is that we want the people to have a say on the form of Brexit.
You could argue there was a mandate from the 2016 referendum for the UK to leave the EU. But all of the groups are united in their determination that
the people have got to have a place at the table in the process. How we leave the EU and the form of Brexit we end up with should not be dictated by
a ministerial elite in Westminster.
Some people want to ensure their parliamentarian is not sidelined in this process. Others want the people to get a final say through a general
election. Given the volatility of British politics, who knows where we will be later this year.
2018 February 1
EU Exit Analysis
The government will not oppose the release of a leaked Brexit analysis. Brexit minister Steve Baker said economic forecasts by government officials
were always wrong. Ministers say the study is interim and incomplete as it does not consider the bespoke deal desired by the government.
Junior justice minister Phillip Lee: "If these figures turn out to be anywhere near right, there would be a serious question over whether a government
could legitimately lead a country along a path that the evidence and rational consideration indicate would be damaging."
Lee has been reprimanded by the chief whip. No action has been taken against Baker, whose comments prompted an angry response from the head of the FDA,
the union for senior civil servants.
AR I was once a committee member of the FDA.
Google, Microsoft, IBM, and other tech giants are pouring money into quantum machine learning. A quantum AI system should be powerful, but it suffers
from a kind of locked-in syndrome that can negate its apparent advantages.
A neural network is an interconnected grid of basic on-off neurons. A neuron monitors the output of multiple other neurons and switches on if enough of
them are on. Typically, the neurons are arranged in layers, from input to output, with perhaps a billion interconnections that adapt via trial and error
On a classical computer, the interconnections are in a big matrix of numbers, and running the network means doing matrix algebra. Manipulation of large
matrices is exponentially faster on a quantum computer. But so far machine learning based on quantum matrix algebra has been demonstrated only on
machines with 4 qubits.
Quantum learning systems embed a problem in a network of qubits and process the qubits without collapsing the ongoing calculation. To get the answer
you measure the quantum state, which collapses it, wiping out the rest of the data before you can see it. The art in writing a quantum algorithm is
to cancel out wrong answers, so the final measured state is the right answer.
Scott Aaronson: "People have often been very cavalier about whether these algorithms give a speedup."
AR I talked with Scott about such things at a Skövde conference in 2001.
The British Empire
AR Fond memories
of life in Germany
2018 January 31
Gamma Rays From Black Holes
An observed gamma ray excess from the centre of the Milky Way can be explained by weakly interacting massive particles (WIMPs) annihilating when they
meet other WIMPs, but bumps in the signal must be caused by other sources, such as black holes or pulsars.
Dark matter piling up at the edge of intermediate-mass black holes (IMBHs) should produce enough gamma rays to account for the excess, so long as there
are about one thousand IMBHs in the innermost regions of the galaxy.
These IMBHs range from tens to hundreds of thousands of solar masses. They are believed to form in the early universe either when massive stars went
supernova and collapsed or by growing from the seed of a primordial black hole.
The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) first detected a merging pair of IMBHs in 2015 and has detected another three pairs
since then. LIGO could show that dark matter spikes near IMBHs are behind the gamma excess in our galaxy.
As a language lover and an impassioned translator, as a cognitive scientist and a lifelong admirer of the human mind's subtlety, I have followed the
attempts to mechanize translation for decades. Once I ran across a letter written in 1947 by the mathematician Warren Weaver, in which he made this
When I look at an article in Russian, I say, "This is really written in English, but it has been coded in some strange symbols. I will now proceed to
Some years later he offered a different viewpoint: "No reasonable person thinks that a machine translation can ever achieve elegance and style. Pushkin
need not shudder."
Having devoted one unforgettably intense year of my life to translating Alexander Pushkin's sparkling novel in verse Eugene Onegin into my native tongue
(that is, having radically reworked that great Russian work into an English-language novel in verse), I find this remark of Weaver's far more congenial
than his earlier remark.
To me, translation is a profoundly human art form that graciously carries clear ideas in Language A into clear ideas in Language B, and the bridging act not
only should maintain clarity, but also should give a sense for the flavor, quirks, and idiosyncrasies of the writing style of the original author.
2018 January 30
The UK decision to leave the EU is a tragedy and a depressing moment. Some Brexiteers are motivated by a sense of national identity built around Britain
standing alone in the second world war. That is a nice story, but does not solve any problem of today.
Many Brexiteers told me they wanted to preserve a British identity and this was being lost in a thick soup of other identities. Some of them define
themselves by what their father did in the war, and it gives them great personal pride.
The idea that Germany dominates the EU is a horrible story. When I tell people in Germany that I am confronted by this narrative occasionally in Britain,
they say that is absurd and I must be joking.
I do not see a way for Europeans to persuade the British to rethink the decision. This is a proud country, and rightly so. For Europeans there would be
no problem if Britain wanted to stay.
EU Exit Analysis
The UK will be left worse off under all Brexit scenarios, with financial services, chemicals, clothing, manufacturing, food and drink, cars and retailing
among the sectors worst hit, according to a secret Whitehall briefing. The document, obtained by BuzzFeed, suggests that a No Deal scenario reverting to
WTO rules would reduce growth by 8% over the next 15 years.
The Polish government aims to criminalise statements that mention examples of Polish involvement in Nazi atrocities. It would become a crime to say that
in 1941, Poles slaughtered hundreds of Jewish fellow citizens in the town of Jedwabne. In 2001, the Polish president apologised on behalf of the nation
for the massacre, which is recorded in the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw.
2018 January 29
Quantum supremacy — the day when a quantum computer can carry out a task beyond the means of our best classical supercomputers — may soon be
upon us. But the fundamental physics of quantum computing is far from solved. There is still everything to play for.
Quantum mechanics creates a computational resource unavailable to classical devices. To carry out a quantum computation, you need to keep all your qubits
coherent. Researchers building quantum computers must stave off decoherence, which they can now do only for a fraction of a second.
Quantum computing is noisy. Random fluctuations will occasionally flip or randomize the state of a qubit, potentially derailing a calculation. Researchers
working on quantum computers have created strategies for how to deal with the noise, but they impose a huge computational overhead.
Quantum simulations are still proving their worth on small quantum computers. A quantum algorithm is in use to find the ground states of simple molecules,
which classical computers can already simulate accurately. We are still waiting for a demonstration of quantum supremacy.
The British Empire
The British Empire began to take shape during the early 17th century, when Britain was still a feudal kingdom, with a parliament but little democracy,
and when manufacture was dominated by the handloom rather than the factory.
At the beginning of 18th century, India's share of the world economy was 23%, as large as all of Europe put together. By the time Britain left India,
it had dropped to less than 4%. Shashi Tharoor: "India was governed for the benefit of Britain. Britain's rise for two hundred years was financed by its
depredations in India."
A triangular trade used goods from Britain to purchase slaves from West Africa, who were taken to the Caribbean, and from whose labor great riches flowed
back to merchants in Britain. Without the slave plantations, it is unlikely that Britain would have been able to forge an empire as it did.
Belgian colonialism instituted an almost unimaginable reign of barbarism and terror. Congo was transformed into a mass labor camp, in which brutal punishments
were inflicted for trivial offenses. Between the 1870s and the 1920s, the population of the Congo fell by an estimated 10 million people, a death toll of
Supporters of the British Empire argue that its rule was more benign than the terror of the Belgian Congo. But in India some 3 million died in the
Bengal famine of 1942−1943, caused by the British decision to export rice, for use in the war theaters and for consumption in Britain.
In 1807, Britain passed a law banning the slave trade. But for three centuries, in a trade dominated by Britain, some 12 million Africans were transported
to the Americas, half of them in the peak years of the Atlantic slave trade, when about half of these slaves were taken on British ships.
Britain ended slavery with the 1833 Abolition of Slavery Act. Slave owners were well compensated for the loss of their slaves, who were compelled to
provide 45 hours of unpaid labor each week for their former masters, for a further 4−6 years after their supposed liberation.
The suggestion that the British Empire was good because it ended slavery reflects historical amnesia. The arguments for the moral good of colonialism
are threadbare. Imperial nostalgia resurfaces when Britain is searching for a sense of identity, as in the Brexit discussion.
2018 January 28
BAT vs FANG
Jack Ma is the founder and chairman of Alibaba, the Chinese equivalent of Amazon. From the outset, Ma envisioned an online marketplace for everything.
Ma moved faster than Amazon boss Jeff Bezos to diversify his business. Alibaba pioneered electronic payments with Alipay to allow online purchases with
no transaction fees. Today in China, everyone pays for everything with smartphones.
As an investment, Alibaba has been a dream. What sets Alibaba apart from Amazon is the sheer scale and speed of growth of the Chinese e-commerce market.
Every emerging market in the world lags behind China when it comes to e-commerce.
Ma wants to roll out the Chinese model not in America or Europe but everywhere else. Today Alibaba sends a million packages to Russia per day. Similar
expansion has taken Alibaba to India and southeast Asia.
Until recently, I assumed that Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, and Google (FANG) would take everywhere except China, which would be dominated by Chinese
rivals Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent (BAT). In fact BAT could take everywhere except America.
Brexit Vassal State
I agree with Jacob Rees-Mogg about a crucial component in the Brexit puzzle: the transition period.
Rees-Mogg claimed that the UK will become a vassal state for two years or more if, as planned, the government agrees in the EU summit in March to abide
by the rules and courts of the bloc while losing the rights and privileges of a full member state.
Other EU countries are perplexed too. It would be more honest simply to extend the Article 50 timetable. No one involved in Brexit believes that
everything will be wrapped up by March 2019.
Rees-Mogg suggests a dramatic change in direction. By extending the Article 50 timetable, the government would both provide businesses with continuity
and increase its negotiating leverage in the Brexit talks. An extension requires only the consent of the EU27.
Playing for more time is the right thing to do.
2018 Holocaust Memorial Day
Economic metrics such as GDP tell us little or nothing about human flourishing. Most of our language about economic growth is an imprisoning picture.
We have taught ourselves to assume that the expansion of our economy in certain ways is both natural and beneficial for everyone.
We have stopped looking at the effects of the system we inhabit. Instead we say the kind of growth we have been used to is the best or only engine for
lifting populations out of poverty, or that the massive inequality of the global system is just a minor malfunction in a generally benign story.
We have stopped asking what wealth is for. Lacking a coherent picture of what a good human life looks like, we have filled the gap with quantified
measures that tell us little or nothing about how far real human beings are flourishing in all aspects of their experience.
An emptiness in the pursuit of worthy goals is one form of midlife crisis.
Arthur Schopenhauer preached the futility of desire. Getting what you want can fail to make you happy. If you get what you want, your pursuit is over
and you are aimless, flooded with emptiness and boredom.
Engagement with projects subverts itself. When you aim at a future goal, satisfaction is deferred, but the moment you succeed, your achievement is in
the past. You exhaust your interaction with something good, as if you were to make friends for the sake of saying goodbye.
For Schopenhauer, there is no way out: a midlife crisis is simply the human condition. But Schopenhauer was wrong. To see his mistake, we need to
distinguish between telic and atelic activities.
Telic activities aim at terminal states of completion and exhaustion. Atelic activities have no point of termination at which they aim, or final state in
which they have been achieved and there is no more to do. Their temporality is not that of a project with an ultimate goal, but of a limitless process.
Give meaning to your life through activities that have no terminal point. Since they cannot be completed, your engagement with them will not subvert
itself. Nor does it invite the sense of frustration that Schopenhauer scorns, where fulfilment is always in the future or the past.
In midlife, find a balance between the telic and atelic.
2018 January 26
How To Be Creative
Tapping into your thoughts and dreams is the first step to finding your creativity. Your mind wanderings are just as valid a force of imagination
as any. They are your natural impulses and your inner creator speaking out.
There is a moment in any creative flight when you think you have something profound and wonderful to give to the world. This is audacious and
possibly delusional, but it is the price of admission. Give in to this feeling.
Creators tend to pile up ideas, like notes on slips of paper on the nightstand, then they work on them. From hard work comes understanding of
your medium. Create a version of your thing and let it build and develop.
Perfectionism is the big foe of creativity. Your own impulse is perfect in one good way. You have shown the courage to create something that
would never delight anyone if it were stopped for want of perfection.
Right when the urge hits to pause and perfect things, take a nap, and return later, refreshed. When you are ready, seek feedback. Seek it from
someone who can see your creation for what it can be.
Theresa May's approach to Britain's departure from the EU has become a strategy to avoid a strategy. The prime minister's chosen road to Brexit is
paved with fudge. Hard choices can wait. The only thing that counts is getting over the line by March 2019.
"Instead of doing what we're normally doing in the trade negotiations — taking two divergent economies with low levels of trade and trying to bring
them closer together to enhance that trade — we are taking two completely interconnected and aligned economies with high levels of trade between
them, and selectively moving them, hopefully very modestly, apart."
"While we want a deep and special economic partnership with the EU after we leave, these could not be described as very modest changes."
10 Downing Street
2018 January 25
Merkel at Davos
German chancellor Angela Merkel said Europe faces challenges similar to those it faced 100 years ago. Protectionism and nationalism are not the answers.
Germany is committed to a multilateral world and will contribute to solving global problems.
Merkel said Germany must renew its social market economy. She called for a common European response to protectionism and the US tax reform, a common
defense and refugee policy, and development of the EU internal market. She also said Europe should develop a digital agenda.
Merkel demanded completion of EZ banking union and business tax reform. On European defense cooperation, she said the EU27 must send clear signals
to global heavyweights. On the refugee crisis, she spoke of a global conflict and a lot of work to deal with refugees in Europe.
German chancellor Angela Merkel urged the world to fight the poisonous effect of populism and to resist protectionism. She said UK access to the EU
single market requires accepting freedom of movement. And she said EU members should push for closer ties on defense and foreign policy.
French president Emmanuel Macron warned against a race to the bottom on taxes and regulation and emphasised the importance of globalization. He called
for improvement on issues including energy, migration, digital policy, and investment.
Macron: "The core strategy for me in the coming years and especially for this year is to manage to deliver a new foundation for our Europe .. my view is
that we have to redesign a ten-year strategy to make Europe a natural economic, social, green, scientific, and political power."
The British government has largely stopped governing since last June. The health care system has almost collapsed, the housing shortage has become acute,
and the gap between rich and poor has widened.
Brexit is hanging around British necks like a millstone. The referendum vote on the EU has split the Conservative party into factions arguing
passionately over how hard Brexit should be.
Theresa May became prime minister as a consequence of the Brexit vote. During the referendum campaign, she managed to seem both for and against the EU.
Now she constantly faces rebellions as Brexit overshadows everything.
2018 January 24
The liberal international order is sick. Democracy is in crisis. States that a decade ago seemed promising success stories are sliding into
President Trump sides with autocrats abroad and violates US norms of governance. He tears at the fabric of international cooperation and aims
to put America First. International relations are now to be transactional.
Moves toward free trade have been minor since 2001. Trade and capital flows are growing no faster than world output. Hostility to immigration
is rampant and populists favor their own voters.
Davos people need to consider what to do:
1 Choose between domestic political cohesion or international economic integration. Economic life demands political
stability. Voters must feel that their interests count.
2 Manage the global commons and maintain global stability. More liberal trade, open borders for free movement of
people, and free flow of global capital are lesser priorities. Nationalism is the trend.
Or they can sink with their global order.
Machines Can't Dream
We can create a world where AI benefits humanity. Automation can free people from dangerous, repetitive tasks and afford us the freedom to focus on
activities that only humans can perform, with empathy, moral judgment, and love. We can evolve augmented humanity.
Technology leaders are exploring ways to deploy collaborative robots in factories. Robots will work best when AI is used to program the robots and
assign work to the humans alongside them. Young people will need the right skills and existing workers will face new requirements.
Experts disagree on how many jobs can be automated through AI. Some jobs can be fully automated but almost every job can be partly automated. AI
also helps by taking over jobs that are too difficult or dangerous for people.
Most industry analysts agree that AI will be a core driver for economic development. The benefits of AI for companies go far beyond cost savings. They
include more innovation, improved forecasting, optimized operations, more personalized customer services, and enhanced user experience for consumers.
Machines don't dream. Even when trained with high volumes of data, machines only learn from the past and cannot imagine the future. Capabilities such
as flexibility, creativity, curiosity, and emotional intelligence let us dream big and rise to our full human potential.
AR Bill is SAP CEO.
John Ross about 30 years ago
Alexandra Palace, London
19-21 Jan 2018
Royal Air Force
1918 — 2018
As the RAF celebrates its 100th anniversary, the UK is grappling with a resurgent Russia and a number of potential adversaries with advanced jets
and air defence systems.
The F-35B will fly from the Queen Elizabeth and Prince of Wales carriers, and 14 of them will arrive in RAF Marham this summer, as part of an
initial tranche of 48 for the UK. The force will be run by the RAF and Royal Navy.
The fate of a further 90 F-35s due to be purchased by the UK remains unclear, given uncertainty over how to plug a £20 billion funding gap at
the Ministry of Defence. The F-35 has a unit cost of £100 million, only 15% of which goes to British companies.
2018 January 23
There will be no second referendum on Britain leaving the EU. Parliament gave the British public the choice and they made their decision. I
completely understand the concern in the EU and in Germany.
I look ahead to the next stage of negotiations with the EU. We share the same values, we have shared interests and challenges, and we are
unconditionally committed to maintaining European defence and security in the future.
I want German citizens currently living in the UK and UK citizens living in Germany to know that they are secure and they can stay. We want
to negotiate a comprehensive free trade agreement and a security partnership.
A lasting good relationship is important for people on both sides of the Channel. The decision to leave the EU was taken because people
felt that decisions about their future should be made in the UK.
Germany on Brexit
Friendly reminder: "Sufficient progress" in withdrawal questions meant: We are not there yet. More work to be done. Many #Brexit left overs will surface
when EU-Commission starts drafting withdrawal agreement, e.g. text on Ireland! Point here is: Legal text has to be clear.
2018 January 22
1968 − 2018
Funeral Service, Poole Crematorium
Jordan Peterson believes most university humanities courses should be defunded. He also supports socialized healthcare, redistribution of wealth, and
decriminalization of drugs. His videos on the psychological significance of biblical stories have been watched millions of times.
He says life is tragic. Happiness is a pointless goal. Compare yourself not with others but with who you were yesterday. No one gets away with
anything, ever, so take responsibility for your own life.
You conjure your own world. You only see what you aim at. If your aims are dark and corrupted, you will see the dark and corrupt things that facilitate
your aims. And if your aims are high, you will see different things.
Put meaning before expediency. Have the courage to move toward meaning. This is what the biblical stories tell us. Take the high path, pick up the heavy
rock, and hope for new strength.
Peterson says most morality is cowardice: "Consult your resentment. It is revelatory. Don't underestimate malevolence and don't underestimate the utility
of your capacity for malevolence. If you're weak, you should turn yourself into a monster. Cowering in your basement resenting everyone is the real pathway
Peterson is a Christian: "I'm not sure we understand anything about the role of consciousness in space and time. I don't think the world is the way we think
it is. I'm not a materialist. Whatever is going on down there at the subatomic level of matter is so weird that the people who understand it don't understand
2018 January 21
Always aim for the best. Never settle for less. Government and private enterprise have always worked together to achieve great things.
Those who provide services to the public bring dedication and professionalism to their work. Whether they are employed by the government
or local council directly or work for a business that is contracted to provide that service, all deserve our gratitude and respect.
A free society only works when everyone plays by the same rules. By this time next year, all listed companies will have to reveal the pay
ratio between bosses and workers and explain how they take into account employee interests at board level. Businesses will have to take
into account the long-term consequences of their decisions.
The state has a role to play when things go wrong, by stepping in and supporting those affected. Every successful business is built on a
thriving, supportive society. I am determined to stand up to the minority of businesses that give the majority a bad name.
That way, we can sustain our economy and ensure the public and private sectors provide the services we expect and deserve.
New data from American, Canadian and British college students indicates that perfectionism has increased by a third since 1989. As college students are
returning to school after their winter breaks, many parents worry about the pressure their kids are putting on themselves.
Perfectionism is a personality trait or characteristic that is innate in many people. It is nurtured in some environments, notably in families where
personal accomplishment, academic or otherwise, is rewarded. But for other parents, it can be difficult to know when perfectionism in their kids is
cause for concern. After all, the high standards they set for themselves probably got them into college.
While perfectionism is associated with greater productivity, conscientiousness and career success, many parents are concerned. If you are concerned
about perfectionist tendencies in your child, remind them that good enough is the goal, not perfect. And meanwhile, send care packages.
AR Uh? Perfectionism is not a problem.
My local beach this morning
Here, 28 weeks ago
2018 January 20
The New York Times
Trump became president one year ago today.
2018 January 19
The Anglo-French summit was a meeting of countries that have long carried roughly equal economic and strategic weight. Progress was made to secure
cooperation after Brexit that was taken for granted before it.
Emmanuel Macron revels in his status as the embodiment of revived French confidence. In Brexit negotiations he may hold the whip hand. Far from interpreting
the 2016 Brexit vote as a warning to Brussels to loosen its supranationalism, he seeks accelerated fiscal union and a unified European defence posture.
On Brexit, Macron seeks to:
● Woo the asset managers who at present invest £7 trillion from desks in London
● Drive a hard bargain as Britain manoeuvres to add financial services to a trade deal
● Deny Britain the benefits of the single market unless it shoulders the obligations
Britain and France are the only two European powers able to project significant military force. Working closely together makes sense.
2018 January 18
Decline of the West
Western culture is reaching a critical juncture. Cycles of inequality and resource use are heading for a tipping point that in past civilizations
precipitated political unrest, war, and finally collapse.
Peter Turchin used biological population equations to describe the rise and fall of ancient civilizations. He found two superimposed cycles. One, lasting
2 or 3 centuries, starts with a fairly equal society. The population grows, the supply of labor outstrips demand, and the workers get poorer, triggering
a turbulent phase, until the misery of the lowest strata and infighting between elites cause collapse. The other, of 50 years, has peaceful and turbulent
In US history, Turchin found peaks of unrest in 1870, 1920, and 1970, with the end of the next cycle, around 2020, coinciding with the turbulent part of
the longer cycle. Current levels of inequality and political divisions in America show it is entering the end of the cycle. Brexit and the Catalan crisis
hint that Europe is also feeling the strain.
Safa Motesharrei modeled human populations as predators and natural resources as prey. He split the predators into two groups, the haves and the have-nots,
and showed that either extreme inequality or resource depletion pushed a society to collapse, with collapse irreversible when the two coincide. The haves
are buffered by their wealth from the effects of resource depletion for longer than the have‑nots and so resist calls for change until it is
Humans are not great at playing a long game. Every time a new technology is invented and large numbers of people use it without foresight, problems arise.
Examples are climate change resulting from the excess use of fossil fuels and overuse of antibiotics leading to microbial resistance.
AR The owl of Minerva flies at dusk, said Hegel.
Brexit is not a done deal. It can be reversed by a referendum on the Brexit terms early next year. Opinion polls show a majority against Brexit and a
surge of support for continued EU membership among younger voters.
Some in Europe think there might be rich commercial pickings from Brexit. But the ill effects of European fragmentation and division far outweigh any
benefits from gaining business at the expense of Brexit Britain.
The Brexit obsession is a distraction from real UK challenges. Britain is facing a crisis in housing, education, healthcare, employment, and the
incessant rise of social and regional inequalities. All this is feeding populism and undermining the national fabric.
There is still time to hold a referendum. I am confident that the British people will recognise that the balance of advantages lies in continued EU membership.
Ben Bradley is tasked with attracting young people to the Conservative party. His proposed fix for unemployed people is for them to have vasectomies.
Belief in the poor as inherently inferior, morally polluting, and intellectually dysgenic is the logical conclusion.
In a novel, such hubris would get a comical comeuppance. In real life, it ends in unfathomable darkness. This is why novels are more nourishing than politics,
but they are not lucrative, so if this is your plan, remember not to have children.
AR Neuter novelists?
2018 January 17
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
W.A. Mozart: Symphony #35 Haffner
J. Stamitz: Clarinet Concerto in B flat
C. Stamitz: Clarinet Concerto in E flat
A. Dvořák: Symphony #5
The New York Times
The US Nuclear Posture Review sent to President Trump for approval would permit the use of nuclear weapons to respond to a wide range of attacks on
Cyberattacks against the United States and its interests would be regarded as sufficient to justify a nuclear response. Experts say a cyberattack is
an efficient way to paralyze systems like the power grid, cellphone networks, and the backbone of the internet without using nuclear weapons.
The draft review cites concern about expanding threats in space and cyberspace to the command and control systems of the American nuclear arsenal.
The nuclear response networks could be disabled or fed false data in a cyberattack. Any conflict would begin with a lightning strike on space and
The draft strategy embraces US production of a new generation of small, low-yield nuclear weapons. The new plan would push the price tag for a
makeover of the US nuclear arsenal above the previous estimate of $1.2 trillion.
AR Do we need to start building bunkers?
French president Emmanuel Macron is visiting Britain this week and defence is top of the agenda. Both sides want a new bilateral relationship to
reaffirm and preserve ties after Brexit.
Macron hopes to persuade Britain to sign up to his proposed European Intervention Initiative (EII). Another plan, the Permanent Structured Co-operation
(Pesco) on defence, is an EU project.
Brits are sceptical about integrating UK armed forces with those of Europe. But this is a luxury the UK can no longer afford. The EII is a way to start
a new and deep partnership with the continent.
UK participation in the €5.5 billion European Defence Fund is likely to be part of the second phase of Brexit talks. The UK government plans to continue
paying into the fund after Brexit.
AR Bilateral — what about Germany?
The Carillion collapse is enormously sensitive for Theresa May. In 2016, the group blamed Brexit for its poor business performance. The UK governments
like to talk up the strength of the British economy, but the Carillion bankruptcy says otherwise.
"The pace of new order intake has slowed in the second half. We believe this is due in part to the changes within UK government departments following
the EU referendum result, as they reassessed their spending priorities."
Carillion, December 2016
"Carillion was left with just £29 million in cash when it collapsed .. the insolvent construction company owed £1.29 billion to its banks."
Gill Plimmer, January 2017
AR Yet the directors were paid millions.
Perhaps more than any other single American, Oprah Winfrey is responsible for giving national platforms and legitimacy to all sorts of magical thinking,
from pseudoscientific to purely mystical, fantasies about extraterrestrials, paranormal experience, satanic cults, and more. The various fantasies she has
promoted on all her media platforms are not as dangerous as Donald Trump's mainstreaming of false conspiracy theories, but for three decades she has had
a major role in encouraging Americans to abandon reason and science in favor of the wishful and imaginary.
2018 January 16
France and Britain
France flourished in the three postwar decades and set the terms of European integration. Britain faced industrial disarray and rebuffs in its dithering
bids to join the European project. Once Britain had joined, the next three decades saw it catch up and edge slightly ahead.
Today, the entire UK governing class is occupied with negotiating a Brexit for which all the options seem dismaying. Meanwhile France is turning outward.
Emmanuel Macron is liberalising French labour regulations, reducing state holdings in big companies, and talking up France.
Formal departure from the EU is not the same as meaningful independence from it. Brits may face EU standards, courts, and budgets, minus a say over them.
Unless Britain transforms its trade, Europe will continue to dominate its nominally sovereign affairs.
Poland and Hungary
The Polish government stands accused of violating the EU founding principles. It has turned state broadcasting into propaganda and cleared the way to stack
the Polish courts. It is also making life hard for independent media and pushing alarming reforms of the voting system.
The EU faces a fundamental dilemma. If the EU authorities fail to take action, they will be ignoring threats to democracy and the rule of law. If they take
action, they let a nationalist government say foreign bureaucrats are trying to undermine Polish independence.
The Hungarian government has gone further than Poland in undermining the independence of the media and the courts, but Hungary has powerful friends in
Germany. The German government wants good relations with Poland.
Terrestrial plants first appeared nearly 50 My BP, and flowering plants 100 My BP. Once angiosperms emerged, their diversity grew far faster than that of
the gymnosperms and ferns. Today, the 350 000 flowering plant species constitute 90% of all plants on land.
As angiosperms evolved, early lineages often duplicated their whole genome. The extra copies of genes took on new functions. Because carrying so much
genetic material was taxing, natural selection then aggressively pruned unneeded sequences.
This genome downsizing set off a cascade of effects. Less DNA let the flowering plants build their leaves from smaller cells, with a high density of
stomata, veins, and photosynthetic cells. Thus they turned sunlight into sugars more efficiently.
Angiosperms exhibit a nearly 2,400-fold difference between their smallest and largest genomes, compared to 196-fold for ferns and 16-fold for gymnosperms.
So angiosperms can better tune their physiology to their environment and live in more diverse habitats.
2018 January 15
Daniel Ellsberg is best known for worrying about the American war in Vietnam. But his first and biggest worry was the American plans for nuclear war.
He worked at RAND on nuclear war planning just before and during the Kennedy administration.
In 1961, Ellsberg learned that the United States could easily destroy the Soviet missile force. Only four ICBMs were ready to go, all at a single site.
They took a long time to prepare for launch and were in the open, close enough together to get all four with a single nuclear hit.
The principal author of the Strategic Air Command plan was General Curtis LeMay. His goal was the sudden and utter destruction of the Soviet Union,
and his plan called for nuclear strikes on just about every city in Russia and in China. Herman Kahn called it wargasm.
The planners had even added up the probable number of dead: about 380 million people. Ellsberg says the danger persists as long as the weapons are
there. These weapons are too dangerous to have because they are too dangerous to use.
2018 January 14
An Islamic State
The first attempts at a modern Islamic state had to flounder. Young Muslims had grown up under the paradigms of nationalism, European racism, and harsh
police states, and carried these inherited behaviors into the caliphate formed by the Islamic State. It will take generations to unlearn these tendencies
and deconstruct what went wrong.
The Islamic State has revitalized the dream of some form of Islamic homeland. This is an idea with more appeal than many in the West want to admit. A
broad mainstream embrace of a collective Muslim identity has prompted young Muslims to view themselves as a collective community.
In Europe, an idealized future Muslim state is a place where integration does not require secularization. Across the Mideast, young Muslims belong to a
generation living in countries that have stripped the notion of citizenship of meaning. No wonder they identify as citizens of Islam, rather than whatever
country whose passport they hold.
The Islamic State caliphate grew out of the Syrian civil war, but it was also made possible by thousands of Muslims from across the world leaving their
countries behind in pursuit of a dream. The Islamic State claimed to represent the idea of a caliphate. It remains squarely in the minds of Muslims, even
if many keep those sentiments from public view.
AR It must therefore remain squarely in the minds of national security planners.
Excellent choice: British Army wants to spend £3 billion on Rheinmetall Boxer AFVs.
"Brexit is the dumbest thing
Britain has done in my lifetime
.. For me and for many other
Britons, this is an absolute
tragedy .. Brexit destroys
work of a generation that has
brought Europe together."
When the country falls into
chaos, patriotism is born.
Tao Te Ching
"Oprah Winfrey would make
an absolutely brilliant president.
If she declares, I will back her."
Kick Against the Pricks
A covert system of taxation hinders female advancement in the work world. Many high-profile men have been demanding sexual homage from their female
employees and others wishing entry into their fiefdoms. If sexual harassment is not about sex but about power, recent events tell us that power is a
A former Miss America, Gretchen Carlson, started the fire. Her 2016 sexual harassment lawsuit against Fox chairman Roger Ailes netted her a $20 million
settlement and an apology from Fox. After news of the lawsuit broke, thousands of women wrote to Carlson about their own experiences, and most of her book
is devoted to their stories.
Miss America contestants should not be the object of sexual come-ons by sleazy PR guys. Yet Miss America contestants are there to uphold certain fantasies
about femininity. One man who hit on such women was Donald Trump, who boasted of barging into dressing rooms in the Miss Teen USA contest to gape at
unclothed teenage girls.
Women are meant to feel shame at this treatment. They get to be the dumping ground for every form of male weakness and self-loathing that can be offloaded
onto them. The convenience of misogyny is that men are spared from hating themselves because they have women to hate instead.
Learning about other humans acting so robotically presents a conceptual difficulty. There is a weirdness to possessing a sexuality, whatever your gender.
We go to work and have to pretend that neither we nor our coworkers have genitals under our clothes.
2018 January 13
Color is a puzzle in philosophy. Modern science can explain how the molecules released into the air by a sage plant stimulate my nose or how its petals
reflect light and appear as they do to my eye. But the scent and the color make no showing in that explanation.
The problem of color is an ontological issue. The concern is that color perception lands us with an erroneous view of the world and that humans fall
victim to a systematic illusion in perceiving external objects as colored. So colored objects are constructions or projections of the brain.
Realism about color comes in many varieties. One proposal is to identify colors with some physical property of objects. The main difficulty is in squaring
this with what we know about the subjective aspects of color, like the variability of color as perceivers and contexts change.
These realist and anti-realist proposals only focus on either the objective or subjective aspects of color. An alternative position is relationist.
Color points out to the world of objects, and at the same time it draws us inward to examine the perceptual subject.
Color is the property of a perceptual process. Because color cannot be reduced either to physics or to psychology, a blue sky is not inner or outer
but somehow in between. This idea has implications for the understanding of conscious perceptual experience.
2018 January 12
Britain faces a £20 billion budget gap between what it wants and what it can afford for defence. RUSI researcher
Justin Bronk sees two options:
1 Stay global and retain the ability to fight expeditionary wars beside the Americans against weaker, poorer countries.
Devote the Royal Navy to protecting the two new aircraft carriers. Give up the ability to fight land wars against Russia and hope the Americans deter
a military attack or turn up in time to prevent defeat.
2 Shed the global ambitions and focus on defending Europe from Russia. Keep a smaller but more heavily equipped army,
most likely based in Poland. Scrap the amphibious warfare capability and slim down the Royal Marines. Let the navy deal with Russian submarines.
Give the aircraft carriers to the Americans.
Focusing UK defence on Europe balances the damage done by Brexit. East Europeans and Scandinavians would be happy. The Trump administration has cast a shadow
over NATO, and the Americans could leave Europe to the locals.
Any clear choice would be better than the current shambles. Another question concerns the future role that military defence should play in national security.
Defence against cyber and terror threats demands a thorough reassessment.
2018 January 11
Warning on Russia
The New York Times
Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee have issued a report that offers a comprehensive public accounting of Russia's war on the West.
The 2016 election, which every US intelligence agency has said involved Russian interference to help elect Donald Trump, is part of a pattern in which
President Vladimir Putin has worked to erode Western institutions and undermine faith in democracy.
President Trump refuses to acknowledge that Russia poses a security threat. Republicans in Congress have expressed more concern about those who revealed
Russian meddling than about the meddling.
The report says the Kremlin has increased spending on propaganda and on groups and political parties opposed to the EU and NATO, enlisted organized crime
groups to launder money and commit other crimes, and used its control of energy supplies to spread corruption.
Russia used cyberwarfare, disinformation, and military force in Georgia and Ukraine, has undermined Serbian efforts to integrate with the West, has weakened
democracy in Hungary and Bulgaria, and is spreading its reach into Mexico and the Mideast.
The president has denied Russian meddling and refused to criticize Putin. The report was produced without Republican input.
The Spitler Burst
On Christmas Eve 2016 at Arecibo Observatory, an extremely powerful repeating fast radio burst (FRB) from a source 3 billion light years away said hello.
The burst is now called FRB 121102 or the Spitler burst. In the following weeks, Arecibo registered 15 more bursts from this source. The object creating the
bursts must be in an extreme cosmic neighborhood, such as near a black hole with a mass of more than 10 kilosuns.
The burst helps to strengthen the theory that at least some FRBs might be produced by magnetars. A magnetic field near the source has twisted its radio waves,
an effect known as Faraday rotation, in this case so extreme that the repeating FRB is in an extreme environment. We need more data.
Gravity has no quantum theory. In quantum theories, all interactions depend on the energy at which they take place. This is quantified by calculating how
the parameters depend on energy.
A theory that is well behaved at high energies is asymptotically free. For quantum gravity to work, we must be able to describe the theory at high energies
using only a finite number of parameters, and none of the parameters should become infinite. This asymptotic safety provides a link between testable low
energies and inaccessible high energies.
2018 January 10
Catherine Deneuve et al.
The Weinstein affair has raised awareness of sexual violence against women, particularly in the workplace, where some men abuse their power. This was necessary.
But this liberation of speech has turned today into its opposite.
Puritans cite the protection of women and their emancipation to help condemn them to the status of eternal victims, poor little things under the influence of
The #metoo campaign has led to public denunciation and punishment of men who, without being given the opportunity to respond or defend themselves, were put on
the same level as sex offenders. The men may have touched a knee, tried to steal a kiss, talked about sex at work, or sent sexually explicit messages to a
This fever to send "pigs" to slaughter, far from helping women to empower themselves, actually serves the interests of the enemies of sexual freedom and those
who have their own agenda regarding good and morality.
2018 January 9
A positive outcome to the next phase of Brexit talks is by no means guaranteed. For now, the accent must be on making the best of what will be
economically inferior to EU membership. That means keeping the UK as close to Europe as possible.
The negotiations over UK relations with Europe, the controversy surrounding the border in Ireland, and the continuing power of Scottish national
sentiment are obliging the English to think harder than usual about who they are and what they want.
For the past three centuries, their national identity has been folded into their role as the senior power in the British federation, so they have
rarely needed to question their place in the world. But thanks to Brexit, the English national identity is undergoing a fast and furious overhaul.
A country that was once a byword for steady imperturbability has suddenly revealed itself to be fractious, impulsive, and jittery. A land of fair play
and cautious pragmatism has become moody and quarrelsome. The idea that the English are strong and stable has lost all credibility.
England today feels like a country that has fallen out of love with itself. The English might become the drivers of a new golden age for a new global
Britain. Or they might awake from the Brexit fever, gape in amazement, and wonder how such folly came to pass.
Churchill in 1940
Winston Churchill was on the wrong side of history and of statecraft for most of his political career. His triumph of May 1940 makes for a cracking yarn. But few people today understand what was at stake during the Dunkirk crisis, because so few retellings of the story confront its class dimension.
Class divisions and antagonisms were enormous in the Britain of 1940. The scale of elite collusion in the effort to appease Hitler and the scale of the
unfolding military disaster were unknown to most members of the public. When tens of thousands of troops returned, defeated, stories circulated that the
officers at Dunkirk had fled, leaving ordinary soldiers in the lurch.
Churchill chose to fight, both to defend the empire and to prevent British politics from exploding. To sell a peace to the public, the establishment would
have deployed the media, monarchy, and civil service, but Labour leaders might have stoked a revolution. Churchill understood this.
AR Unite against an external enemy — stave off class war.
The 50th Mersenne prime is
2^77232917 − 1.
in decimal notation it has
Fire and Fury
Inside the Trump
Year of the Golden Dog
Russia vs NATO
Estonian defense forces are establishing a cyber command. Conscription allows us to utilize the skills and
knowledge of our brightest young specialists. A voluntary organization keep the cyber defense capabilities up to date.
The Russian speaking minority is strongly represented throughout the Estonian defense forces. Allied troops are
here in Estonia too, to defend NATO. Their presence is an important sign of NATO unity and resolve.
2018 January 8
Golden Globes 2018
Insatiable dedication to uncovering the absolute truth keeps us from turning a blind eye
to corruption and to injustice. Speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have. The story transcends any
culture, geography, race, religion, politics, or workplace.
We all have lived too many years in a culture broken
by brutally powerful men. And for too long, women have not been heard or believed if they dared to speak their truth to
the power of those men. But their time is up.
In my career, I have always tried my best to say something about
how men and women really behave: to say how we experience shame, how we love and how we rage, how we fail, how we retreat,
persevere, and how we overcome. A new day is on the horizon when nobody ever has to say "Me too" again.
2018 January 7
This is a movie about May 1940 and the
first three weeks of Winston Churchill's premiership. Every prime
minister since has known that they will never match his place in
history. There is no one like Churchill among contemporary political
leaders on either side of the Atlantic.
Darkest Hour pivots
around three of Churchill's finest speeches: his debut to parliament
as prime minister, his first radio address to a frightened nation,
and another speech to MPs following the Dunkirk evacuation. Never in
the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to one man's
brilliance with words.
How painful it is to contrast what was
at stake in 1940, when there was a genuine danger of Britain
becoming a vassal state of Nazism, with the phoney and petty furies
that foam around many of the arguments related to Brexit.
1940, much of the British military thought invasion highly likely
and defeat unavoidable. This made Churchill's determination to fight
on all the braver. He did not follow public opinion — he led it.
2018 January 6
My Year Inside Trump White House
I interviewed Donald Trump for The
Hollywood Reporter in June 2016. He seemed to have liked the piece I
wrote, and his non-disapproval became a kind of passport for me to
hang around in the White House, day after day.
sense of the Trump presidency was being lived as intensely inside
the White House as out. Trump was, for the people closest to him,
the ultimate enigma. He had been elected president, but he seemed as
confused as anyone to find himself in the White House.
was a man singularly focused on his own needs for instant
gratification. "I want a win. I want a win. Where's my win?" he
would regularly declaim. As the first year wound down, Trump finally
got a bill to sign. The tax bill was quite a reversal of his
populist promises. Mitch McConnell: "He'll sign anything we put in
front of him."
2018 January 5
Brexit — Demand Dialog
I want Britain to stay in the European Union.
No one disputes the 2016 vote, or if it stands we will leave. The
issue is whether we have the right to change our mind.
we voted in 2016, we knew we were voting against our present
membership of the EU, but not what the future relationship would be.
It was like having a general election in which the question is: "Do you like the government?" If that were the question, few incumbent
governments would be re-elected.
The options in approaching
the Brexit negotiation:
1 To rethink
and stay, best done in a reformed Europe, where we use the Brexit
vote as leverage to achieve reform.
To exit the political structures of the EU but stay in the single
market and customs union.
3 To exit
both the political and the economic structures of the EU but try to
negotiate a bespoke deal that recreates the existing economic
benefits and keeps us close to Europe politically.
4 To exit both structures, to make a
virtue of leaving and negotiate a basic free trade agreement.
All the last three options are Brexit. The government has ruled
out option 2 and is seeking to negotiate option 3, but a substantial
part of the Tory Party is prepared to go for option 4. The problem
with option 3 is that this is simply not negotiable without major
concessions which make a mockery of the case for leaving. The
problem with option 4 is that it would involve significant economic
pain as we adjust our economy to the new terms of trade.
Northern Ireland is a metaphor for the central dilemma of this
negotiation: we are either in the single market and customs union or
we will have a hard border and hard Brexit. It is the difference
between the status of Norway and that of Canada. The nearer the
Norway option, the more the obligations; the nearer the Canada
option, the less the access.
The dilemma flows naturally from
the fact that the single market is a unique trading area with a
single system of regulation and a single system of arbitration. And
the risk is that we end up with the worst of all worlds. We muddle
along, trying to leave without really leaving, with a patchwork of
arrangements that only mean we have lost our seat at the table.
Demand that we know the full details of the new relationship
before we quit the old one. Brexit is not and never was the answer.
Open up a dialog with European leaders about reforming Europe.
2018 January 4
Fire and Fury
The New York Times
President Trump said his
onetime chief strategist Stephen Bannon had "lost his mind" after
Bannon was quoted asserting that Donald Trump Jr had been
"treasonous" in meeting with Russians and calling Ivanka Trump "dumb
as a brick" in
Fire and Fury.
White House statement: "Steve
pretends to be at war with the media, which he calls the opposition
party, yet he spent his time at the White House leaking false
information to the media to make himself seem far more important
than he was. It is the only thing he does well. Steve was rarely in
a one-on-one meeting with me and only pretends to have had influence
to fool a few people with no access and no clue, whom he helped
write phony books."
Fire and Fury: "The three
senior guys in the campaign thought it was a good idea to meet with
a foreign government inside Trump Tower in the conference room on
the 25th floor — with no lawyers. They didn't have any lawyers. Even
if you thought that this was not treasonous, or unpatriotic, or bad
shit, and I happen to think it's all of that, you should have called
the FBI immediately."
An unnamed White House aide in
Fire and Fury: "It's worse than you can imagine. An idiot surrounded
by clowns. Trump won't read anything — not one-page memos, not the
brief policy papers; nothing. He gets up halfway through meetings
with world leaders because he is bored."
press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called the
book trashy tabloid fiction.
2018 January 3
Germany and America
Germany and the United States remain close
business partners. This will continue despite the failure to
establish a transatlantic trade deal and the shifting orientation of
both economies toward China. Militarily, Germany and Europe depend
on the United States and its nuclear umbrella.
Germany is an
aspiring power that lacks both the public support and the strategic
culture to act more assertively. The debate over where
German-American relations are headed is also an emotional issue, a
question of love and dependence and letting go. Many Germans still
look fondly to America, whoever is president.
A new voice of
anti-Americanism says America has overstayed its welcome on the
world stage. America still insists on dominating the world both
culturally and politically, but its culture is superficial and
phony, its citizens hypocritical and uneducated. Such
anti-Americanism lurks behind the current debate.
faced with a new global environment that seems to demand radical
change. But as a world player, Germany can act only through Europe,
inhibited by the other 26 EU states. A strategic shift remains
Populism in Europe
Lord Adonis resigned his government position
and pledged to fight to prevent Brexit. His argument is that Brexit
is an act of self-mutilation and I rather agree. But we both made
that point before the referendum and we did not manage to muster a
The political establishment might be able to stop
Brexit. But the damage done to trust in democracy would be huge.
Unless the second referendum arose from a huge public wave of
support, millions will conclude that their vote and the promise made
to them were worthless when they challenged the interests and
attitudes of the political establishment.
Adonis seems to
assume that with Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, populism
crested. The stupidity of voting for dumb populist ideas has become
so obvious that even the idiots responsible are beginning to get it.
Now the political establishment needs to step in to save them from
the consequences of their earlier folly.
But the data shows
that the rise of populism carries on. I share his desire to persuade
people that open markets underpinned by international cooperation
and a strong welfare state offer mankind its best hope. But starting
that campaign with an effort to stop Brexit, however tempting, is a
AR A more
calamitous misjudgment than an effort to stop Brexit would be to
proceed with it on the basis of a flawed snapshot of the presumed
will of the people within an island monarchy when the main effect of
Brexit will be to sour relations with continental neighbours upon
whom the continued peace and prosperity of the island people depend.
Parliamentary delegates in the UK might reflect that the data on
populism around Europe suggests a rising tide of raw emotion that if
left unchecked could end as badly as the rising tide of patriotism
that led to calamity in 1914. It is not the duty of parliamentarians
to persist in obvious folly merely because years earlier their
voters chose under the evident sway of dislike of immigration and
feelings of national pride to vote for that folly.
2018 January 2
Brexit — Madness
The UK government is negotiating to leave the
EU, just so they can negotiate another arrangement with the EU to
give the UK as much as possible of what it already has, but on
The EU is the world's largest free trade
area. As a member, the UK receives benefits worth far more than the
net annual membership fee of £7.1 billion a year. As a member, the
UK enjoys free, frictionless trade with its biggest trading partner
by far, where almost half of its exports go to and over half of its
imports come from.
The UK government is desperate to continue
to enjoy similar membership benefits of frictionless trade with the
EU after it have ended UK membership, because they know that the
economy depends on it. Britain needs frictionless trade with the EU.
It needs free movement of goods, services, capital, and people for
the country to thrive.
Britain will pay around £50 billion to
try and achieve what it already has, but less of it, and on
considerably inferior terms. This is utter madness. There are no
good reasons to leave.
Luther and Germany
Martin Luther was a deeply conservative person
with strong authoritarian tendencies. He wanted to reinstate the
power of God over human freedom. He had the moral certitude of an
angry young man combined with the mindset of a religious fanatic.
His anger needed enemies, conspiracy, and a higher order of good
and bad. He argued against the elites in the name of the people to
lead a populist uprising. The revolt he initiated in Germany set the
stage for a reconstruction of oppressive regimes in the name of God.
He saw devils all around — the Pope, the peasants, the Turks,
the Jews: "Therefore let everyone who can, smite, slay and stab,
secretly or openly, remembering that nothing can be more poisonous,
hurtful, or devilish than a rebel."
Luther led a revolt in
the name of the order of God. His words and deeds could justify
calling him a terrorist. But he constructed a national German
identity that was connected to Christianity.
The crooked timber school of humanity says
the line between good and evil runs through each person and we fight
injustice on the basis of our common humanity. The
oppressor/oppressed morality says the line runs between tribes. That
makes it easy to feel good about yourself. But it makes you very
hard to live with.
2018 January 1
Donald Trump's first year in the White House
has been much more damaging to the nation than that of any other
president in modern times:
● The sweeping tax
bill that was rammed through Congress gives a huge tax cut to
corporations and to wealthy individuals, will add roughly $1
trillion over the next ten years to the federal deficit, and will
widen further the already huge gulf between the very wealthy and the
rest of America.
● Trump said he was
going to do away with the Affordable Care Act (but it remains on the books).
● He ordered a wall
to be built along the Mexican border (but it is not close to
● He has done lasting
harm to the federal judiciary and to the lower courts.
● Across a range of
environmental and regulatory agencies, he has appointed officials
with a record of hostility to the idea that the federal government
operates for the benefit of the public.
● With the rest of
the world, Trump has destroyed many of the understandings,
agreements, and relationships that have served as the foundation for
US foreign policy for half a century or more.
● He announced that the United States would withdraw
from the TPP, helping China in its ambitions to become the leading
power in the region.
● He recognized Jerusalem as the capital of
Israel and move the US embassy to Jerusalem.
● He withdrew
the United States from the Paris accord on climate change.
● He became the first
US president to waver on American commitment to NATO.
● He ordered a
renegotiation of NAFTA.
● He regularly
suggests that America is paying too much for its alliances and
agreements, and that other countries are not paying enough.
● Against North
Korea, Trump taunted Kim Jong-un, calling him Little Rocket Man and
threatening to totally destroy his country.
● He put a corporate
hatchet man in the State Department to cut the staff.
● Trump's America
First foreign policy has caused huge damage in the realm of ideas.
● He has attacked
the rule of law, notions of political and racial tolerance,
national unity, the freedom of the press, civil
discourse, and even truth itself.
● He has abandoned
the notion of civil discourse by refusing to accord his
political opponents even a minimum level of respect.
● He has undermined
the rule of law and the principles of democracy by calling for the
investigation and prosecution of his political adversaries.
● He has shown no
willingness to respect the independent press as a restraint and
watchdog on government.
● He has given presidential validation to racism and
nativism, along with hostility toward education, science, and
The damage he is causing is piling up week
by week. The longer he stays, the worse it will get.
New Year Message
We all have prevailed well over many
difficulties in the past year. The country achieved the milestone of
$1 trillion in trade once again and regained annual economic growth
of over 3%. These accomplishments were made in the face of political
turmoil and security challenges.
As President of the Republic
of Korea, I would like to express my profound respect and
appreciation to each and every one of you.
Spacetime Wormholes and Quantum Teleportation
The idea that things falling into black
holes vanish without trace violates quantum mechanics. But the idea
that black holes are empty shells with hot firewalls violates
Perhaps quangled black
holes A and B forming the two mouths of a wormhole can generate
repulsive negative energy to keep the throat open, so stuff tossed
into A can worm through and pop out of B. This amounts to quantum
The ER = EPR conjecture that wormhole-linked
points in spacetime are equivalent to quangled pairs suggests space
is stitched into existence by entanglement. Maybe wormholes let
quangled bits escape as Hawking radiation.
If so, then black holes
have no firewalls, unitarity is preserved, and the interior and
exterior of a black hole are two complementary ways of looking at
the same system.
AR Fond rehash of
a fun can of worms — blog 2017-11-08.
launch, California, December 22
Iran vs America
Chess is a game I love.
2011 to 2015, I played for the
Iranian national team. But time
and time again, those in charge
of the team showed that they
more about the scarf
covering my hair than the
brain under it.
The Iranian chess federation
has barred me from playing in
for not wearing a hijab in
2017. I have joined the United
Chess Federation and
started school at St Louis
University. I am
for US citizenship.
New Year Honour:
Sir Nick Clegg
Kim Min-Hee and Kim
AR Korean handmaiden and
Japanese lady find love and
foil bad men — fun plot,
sex well done.
2017 December 31
No God But God
Reza Aslan is a good writer and a good historian of religion. His
2013 book Zealot on Jesus was excellent, so I had high hopes for
this 2011 book on Islam. Many hopes were indeed fulfilled: the
historical timeline is clear, the known facts are in place, the
conjectures are properly flagged, the context for contemporaries and
believers is sketched credibly, and the final result is easy and
pleasant to read.
Any historian of Islam will be confronted
with controversy and compelled to take sides. Aslan takes the side
of the Sufis, a relatively gentle and reflective tradition in Islam
with mystic leanings, which grew up in the shade of the Shia branch
of the Mohammedan faith in lands that had rich and deep traditions
of belief and philosophy. In doing so, he distances himself from the
Sunni branch and those of its variants such as Wahhabism that have
attracted Western anger in recent years.
What Aslan does not
do, and what diminishes his book for me, is stand back far enough
from the entire tradition of veneration for the revelations of the
Prophet, and their expression in the series of texts that form the
Quran, to see the wood for the trees. Even today, no pious Muslim
would dare regard the revelations or their canonical expression as
anything but holy, but for a modern Westerner with some respect for
science and rational thinking the leap of imagination required to
take such affirmed holiness at face value is just too great. This
reader at least is driven to taking a remote anthropological stance
on the Arab and related societies of a thousand plus or minus a few
hundred years ago and regarding their strange belief system as shot
through with hardly less nonsense than any other ancient myth or
Despite his Muslim roots, Aslan is a
modern Western writer, so he must must see the need to keep such
rational readers on board, even if in the end he parts company with
them in continuing to venerate his holy relics. There may be a
learning curve here, for he does a fine job in standing back from
Christian or other pieties in discussing Jesus in his later book
Zealot; perhaps it is easier to stand back from a faith one feels no
residual need to defend or believe in. Modern societies with
Christian or Muslim roots are surely robust enough to rise above
superstitious awe in face of alleged revelations and the purportedly
holy texts that spring from them, or at any rate we can only hope
so, if we are to avoid a new clash of civilizations.
Aslan, I have some sympathy for the Sufi thread in the story of
Islam, and feel some distaste for the hardened institutional forms
of the Muslim faith, which like their Christian equivalents have led
to serial disasters in the societies swayed by them. Unlike him,
however, I see little hope for a revival of Sufism in the Muslim
world and indeed little hope of sufficient reform within Islam to
accommodate it to the constraints of life in an age of global
connectivity, robots, and nuclear weapons. Only a clean separation
of secular life, including politics, from the inner life of religion
can enable us to regulate the modern world, it seems to me, and even
a revived Sufism would be of no obvious help in doing so.
summary, then, a modern history of Islam, especially one that like
this volume takes us up to contemporary political issues surrounding
the ongoing wars in Muslim majority societies, can only work for
Western readers if it rises above a partisan perspective. As it is,
Aslan seems to feel sympathy for the victim narrative that Western
imperialists have cruelly exploited the Muslim world, which must
therefore rise up and restore its fortunes by defeating the
infidels. This cuts no ice with me, even in the context of a volume
of history that otherwise deserves some praise.
Religion vs Atheists
The Egyptian parliament is drafting a
bill to criminalize atheists. MP Mustafa Bakri: "The spread of
atheism is an expression of decadence and lack of faith and
threatens the whole of society."
A 2014 study put the
number of atheists in Egypt at 886. President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi
faces elections in 2018 and plans to take a stand against atheism and homosexuality.
2017 December 30
Brexit — Populist Spasm
The European Union Withdrawal Bill is the
worst legislation of my lifetime. It arrives soon in the House of
Lords and I feel duty bound to oppose it relentlessly.
is a dangerous populist and nationalist spasm worthy of Donald
Trump. After the narrow referendum vote for an undefined proposition
to leave the EU, it could have been attempted without rupturing our
essential European trade and political relations.
needs to be deeply engaged, responsible and consistent in its
European policy. When we have failed to be so in the past, the
security and prosperity of our continent have been in jeopardy.
For Her Majesty's Government, there is no such thing as splendid
isolation. When Lord Salisbury pronounced this as British policy in
the imperial late-Victorian era, it was followed within barely a
decade by the First World War and what was, in effect, a 30-year
European war between the forces of democracy on the one hand, and
Communism and extreme nationalism on the other.
may not appear so high as this at the moment, but no-one observing
Putin's Russia, and the rise of authoritarian nationalism in Poland
and Hungary, can doubt the resonances with the past or the dangers
AR Perhaps the ship of
state is beginning to turn away from the iceberg.
2017 December 29
Many Worlds and Black Holes
A black hole either destroys
information, violating quantum mechanics, or is surrounded by a
blazing firewall, violating general relativity. Sean Carroll says the
paradox disappears when the evolution of black holes is understood
via the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics.
quantum state of the universe is described by the global wave
function. Whenever there are many possible outcomes for a physical
process, the wave function in the many worlds interpretation
branches, with one branch for each outcome. Once the branches cease
to interact, they evolve as separate worlds — and so do the
observers in the worlds.
For such an observer, spacetime
behaves as in general relativity and the black hole has no
firewall. Conservation of information applies to the global wave
function and not to its individual branches. The evolution of the
wave function is unitary and there is no global loss of information.
Simulations of the formation of planetary
systems show what happens to moons as their planets are still
forming. Planets are born in turbulent clouds of rocks, where they
are jostled around violently. They frequently collide with
neighboring rocks and dislodge any early
moons orbiting them.
Most planets shed their primordial
moons. The moons that orbit close in stay, but those
further out can come loose. They can remain bound to their
home stars as new planets, but most are flung out into interstellar
space. There could be many more stray moons than stars in the Milky Way.
On leadership of Europe, France is weaker than Germany but more
ambitious. France will accept German leadership on federalising the
eurozone but wants Germany to pay the bill. Germany, still lacking a
government since the September election, has no answer.
German politicians are
unwilling to tell their voters that European security means dealing
with Russia, which instigates conflicts abroad to distract from
stagnation and failure at home. German public opinion loathes the
idea of confronting the Kremlin. Germans also flinch from
confronting authoritarianism in Poland and Hungary.
aims to make Russia its main energy supplier with the Nord Stream 2
gas pipeline across the Baltic Sea. Germany feels guilty toward
Russia because of WW2 but seems not to notice the way Russia treats
Ukraine. Germany needs a new Ostpolitik.
AR I think Lucas fails to understand
Germany in the rest of his source text.
2017 December 28
Brexit — Suicide
UK 2017 was like a suicide who jumps off
a tall building and says as he falls: "So far, so good!"
British prime minister Theresa May agreed to all the EU demands: €50
billion of budget payments, ECJ jurisdiction over the rights of EU
citizens in the UK, and an open border with Ireland.
scenarios usually proposed for the UK relationship with the EU can
now be dismissed. Given the agreement, a hard Brexit is no longer
possible. Without cherry-picking, a soft Brexit is equally
A fake Brexit, similar to the Norway deal, would
retain many current UK privileges, in exchange for complying with EU
rules and regulations, including free movement of labor,
contributing to the EU budget, and accepting the jurisdiction of EU
law. Such a deal would carry a huge political cost. In Johnsonian
language, Britain would be reduced to a vassal state of the EU.
This status is what the UK has already requested for a
transition period up to the end of 2020. There is almost no chance
of Britain ever negotiating the deep and special partnership May has
promised. EU leaders will not let the UK have cake and eat it.
The only way out of the fake Brexit deadlock is a further
transition — how the Norway deal began. This is the dreaded Hotel
That leaves just one alternative: no
Brexit. Meanwhile, the suicide jumper is still falling.
AR The UK must learn to love the EU and
live, not loathe it and die.
Brexit — Tragedy
Brexit minister David Davis has proved to be
a bumbler. He scorned the progress that Theresa May made weeks ago
with a sketchy deal that lets the UK move on with the talks. Just a
declaration of intent, Davis said, until days later he had to
The UK is stuck. If it wants to leave the EU without
major economic damage, it must remain in the single market. But if
it stays in the single market, it will not be sovereign and will
have to comply with all the EU rules that Brexiteers wanted to shake
Eager to please voters, May tells them they can both
have cake and eat it. Her stubborn denial of reality shows how toxic
Brexit has become. Angry rejection of the EU by a few Brexiteers has
gradually infected the entire Conservative party.
for empire set British nationalists against the EU. They refused to
settle in the European family of nations. In recent decades, the
British economy relied increasingly on its financial sector and
debt-fueled consumption — until the 2008 crash.
Politics is a
victim of this mess. Before the referendum, over three-quarters of
MPs pledged to vote for remaining in the EU. Nine months later, over
three-quarters voted to trigger Brexit. They misrepresented a narrow
popular vote as a landslide.
The tragedy stems from the winner-take-all voting system.
2017 December 27
Civilization is a process in which you plus
me is better than you minus me. A society reduced to you versus me
or you minus me is broken. Soon or later, because it cannot invest
in public goods, it will begin to fail.
today is a place where regress has been normalized. Americans
live lives of impossible vulnerability, struggling to survive by
pulling down the next person. US society winnows out the weak
and rewards the strong, adopting the principle you minus me, or you
You plus me is the harder choice. It requires
humility, courage, wisdom, grace, and taming our lower selves.
Although it is easier to believe someone different from you is lazy
and subhuman, accepting you plus me pays off a greater sum in the
end, not only materially but also morally.
progress when we choose the path of you plus me. The question is
whether we keep expanding the boundaries of what it means to be
civilized — or follow America to the edge of the abyss.
AR I had to work on this one:
not US but EU plus me!
Idealized European Union with equipopulous member states
European Parliament representation needs such constituencies,
only to ensure proportionality but also to loosen state ties.
A fishery in Oxfordshire
passes ¥5.19 trillion
2018 defense budget to
counter Nork threat
UK immigration minister
Brandon Lewis: "Leaving the EU
gives us a unique opportunity
to restore our national identity
.. I am delighted to announce
that the British passport will
be returning to the iconic blue
and gold design after we have
the EU in 2019."
Britannia, by jingo!
Boeing MQ25 UAS US
drone tanker will refuel
navy combat aircraft
deputy prime minister
Damian Green sacked
over computer porn
The most fundamental aspect
of mind is
Meditators can distinguish
aversive stimuli, but they
react much less emotionally
than control subjects.
Trained meditators acquire the
to maintain an overall
emotional balance that favors
Philosophy has never only
No sooner do you start philosophizing than you
begin crafting a piece
European expertise in STEM
creates an opportunity
EZ growth — the Internet of
Things. The EU challenge is
to steer public policy and
via its €80 billion
R&D program Horizon 2020.
(YouTube, 15 min)
2017 Boxing Day
Six Minutes in May
Shakespeare has written a history that reads like a novel. By
turning his entire tale around the six minutes of a parliamentary
division on the evening of May 8, 1940, he gives the story of how
Winston Churchill took over as British prime minister from Neville
Chamberlain a dramatic twist. He sees the division as the watershed
moment after eight months of war between Britain and Germany, when
the island nation determined at last to pull itself together and
fight the foe in earnest by putting Winston the imperial warhorse at
the head of the charge.
The catalyst for this act of
parliamentary resolve was the Norway debate that led to the
division. The debate in the House of Commons was a first attempt to
address the governmental weaknesses revealed by a catastrophically
bungled British campaign against the German invasion of Norway. The
debate, although its exchanges sound to a modern ear as dry and
constricted by parliamentary protocol as any war of words in the
imperial sounding box, laid bare a campaign so incompetent and
confused as to beggar belief.
Shakespeare does not shy from
pointing out how Churchill himself, as First Lord of the Admiralty
and the leading champion of both the strategy and the execution of
the Norway campaign, bore as damning a share of responsibility for
the debacle as he had for the comparably bungled Gallipoli campaign
in 1915, when he had also been First Lord of the Admiralty. The 1915
disaster led to his disgrace and humiliation, but amazingly he
survived in 1940. Somehow, the blame for the mess was shifted to
Chamberlain, whose restrained and uncharismatic performance as prime
minister seemed to threaten further dismay if not swiftly addressed.
In the usual telling of this tale, the more decisive watershed
came on the day after the division, when the foreign secretary Lord
Halifax, who had been seen on all sides until then as the heir
apparent for the top job, revealed he had no stomach for the task of
waging war and essentially handed the vacancy to Churchill. As a
novelist, Shakespeare obviously takes delight in reconstructing in
damning detail the open secret of the intense romance between
Halifax and Lady Alexandra Metcalfe (Baba to her friends) that amply
explains the impossibility of Halifax ever achieving glory as a
warrior against so implacable a foe as Adolf Hitler. After that
writerly indulgence, Shakespeare says simply that Halifax, whose
former role as Viceroy of India had obviously spoiled him for a
lesser life in 10 Downing Street, had the decency to defer
gracefully to his old friend Winston.
A sceptical reader
might hazard a guess as to why Shakespeare turns his tale on the
Norway division, namely that his relative Geoffrey Shakespeare was a
minister in the Chamberlain government and played a significant role
in the course of the Norway debate, whereas he played no such role
in the dealings with Halifax. This personal interest encourages
Shakespeare the historian to wax eloquent on the appalling
incompetence of the British conduct of the Norway campaign and thus
to air a chapter in the history of the war that was too gratefully
forgotten in Britain when Churchill began to fulminate against the
Nazis and to get a grip on the British war effort. Today, when the
historical mind glides easily from the defeats in Poland and France
to the victories in the Mediterranean theatre and in Normandy, we do
well to recall these finer details.
has done a fine job of historical reconstruction here. The book is
big and well furnished with the scholarly apparatus that will earn
it a respected place on historical bookshelves, yet still spiced
with the novelistic dash that makes the enterprise come alive. For
my taste, the book is overloaded with trivial detail and lamed by
excessive respect for the preposterous paraphernalia of British
parliamentary procedure and tradition, so I refuse to praise the
work unreservedly, but for all practical purposes, in a crowded
marketplace, the book is a triumph.
2017 Christmas Day
Christmas Threatened by Islamization?
Many Germans think Christmas is
threatened by the Islamization of the West. But at the end of 2015,
between 4.4 and 4.7 million Muslims lived in Germany, alongside
about 23.8 million Catholics and 22.3 million Protestants. Three points:
1 It is
not new that a majority overestimates the significance of
minorities. World history offers too many examples of how small
groups of people of other faiths were persecuted and murdered.
2 Foreigners are often
instrumentalized by domestic interest groups. Religious minorities
offer an easy way to personalize complex challenges and make them
seem real. Again, this is not new.
For religious minorities, the perceived change seems more of a
threat than the number. The media often devote more attention to the
new and the unknown minorities than to familiar ones.
Christmas is endangered not by Muslims but by the dwindling role of
Since November 2015, the national-conservative Law and Justice
(PiS) party has governed Poland. The party has an absolute majority
in both chambers of parliament. It has pushed through laws to
influence the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court, and the State
Justice Council in Poland as part of a judicial reform. Critics fear
for the independence of the Polish judiciary.
Commission has initiated proceedings under Article 7 of the EU
Treaty to examine whether Poland adheres to all democratic and
constitutional principles. Voting rights can be withdrawn as a
sanction. The Commission has also brought lawsuits against Poland,
Hungary, and the Czech Republic in the European Court of Justice for
refusing to accept refugees.
A Europe of Values
Heinrich August Winkler
The European Union requires that
member states guarantee democratic and constitutional order, respect
for human rights, and respect for and protection of minorities.
In 2010, Viktor Orbán became prime minister in
Hungary for the second time. Since then, he has acted to limit the
powers of the Constitutional Court and the independence of the
Since 2015, when his PiS party won power in
Poland, Jarosław Kaczyński has worked closely with Orbán. His attack
on the foundations of the constitutional state has provoked the
European Commission to start legal proceedings against Poland.
The European project is now in crisis. Its renewal must begin
with the salvation of its normative foundations.
Parliament cannot easily represent all EU citizens. A parliament
that gave all member states real representation would be too big, so
Malta and Luxembourg are over-represented and Germany and France are
underrepresented. The parliament cannot claim the same democratic
legitimacy as the Bundestag or the French National Assembly.
Perhaps half of the Members of the European Parliament could be
elected through transnational party lists. A European party system
would generalize social interests and bring them to bear beyond
national borders. But this would still lead to alienation from a
parliaments have a special responsibility for integration with
regard to Europe. Without the participation of the national
parliaments, European decision making is insufficiently democratic.
Europe needs a normative core for the European project to succeed.
AR Christian norms?
2017 Christmas Eve
The Quran is haunted by the desert.
Nowhere else do you get a greater feel for the benignity of water.
Heaven is the oasis of oases, rinsed with sweet waters. Allah speaks
a special language, in which mountains and words and springs are the
syllables. The overall tenor of the Quran is one of mercy and
forgiveness, which are evoked everywhere, almost obsessively.
No God But God
Ibn al-Arabi (1165—1240 CE) reformulated the
traditional Muslim profession of faith as: There is no being other
than the being of God; There is no reality other than the reality of
For al-Arabi, the Quranic statement that God created
humanity from a single soul means the universe itself is a single
being. Men who have realized their essential oneness with the divine
being become perfect or universal men. The perfect man is the mirror
in which the divine attributes are perfectly reflected, or the
medium through which God is made manifest.
For Sufis, the
paradigm of the perfect man is the Prophet Muhammad. They see
Muhammad as many Christian Gnostics saw Jesus, as the eternal logos,
as the light shining in darkness.
So the relationship between
God and Muhammad is like that between the Sun and the Moon: The Sun
is powerful and creative; The Moon is beautiful and responsive.
AR Glorious poetry
2017 December 23
Donald Trump has legitimized the language of
selfishness. During the campaign, he boasted about the gimmicks he
had deployed to avoid paying taxes. There is no purer example of the
politics of decadence than the tax legislation he has signed:
1 The cuts blatantly benefit the
president himself through the abolition of the alternative minimum
tax and the special treatment of real estate income. Americans
hardly even notice the mockery this implies of the public servant's
dedication to public good.
cuts have been targeted to help Republican voters and hurt
Democrats, above all through the abolition or sharp reduction of the
deductibility of state and local taxes. The cuts are the economic
equivalent of gerrymandering.
The cuts will not begin to pay for themselves. The White House and
congressional leaders simply dismiss the forecasts as too gloomy.
Neutral predictions of the effects of tax cuts on the budget must be
wrong, because the effects they foresee are bad ones.
democratic society becomes decadent when its politics becomes
morally and intellectually corrupt. New here is the sheer blitheness
of the contempt for the public good. Worship of the marketplace and
elevation of selfishness to a public virtue — this is America First.
Ronnie de Sousa
Evolutionary biology supports
existentialism. Practical moral claims presuppose the values of
life, health and happiness, but the fact that something is desired
does not prove it should be. One idea is that our desires stem from
our authentic human nature.
The doctrine of natural law is
slippery. Law seems to refer to descriptive generalizations about
what happens, but the meaning is closer to that of legislation. Laws
of the first sort cannot be broken, laws of the second sort are
We imagine nature sometimes makes mistakes. Organs
that fail to perform normally or organisms so different they are
unable to thrive used to be called freaks of nature. But in light of
evolution, we are the descendants of millions of freaks.
Natural law theory cannot tell us what goals to pursue. Evolution
has programmed us to be selfish and cruel, so naturalness is no
reason to value what we care about. Beyond a few basic biological
needs, there seems to be no limit to what humans can desire.
Variety and diversity are fundamental conditions for evolution. The
human invention of language generated an explosion of possibilities.
For humans, existence precedes essence — who we are is determined by
AR Facts shape our
choices — contra existentialism.
2017 December 22
Theory of Everything
Any TOE must fit gravity into the
quantum theory so that gravitons behave collectively like curved
spacetime. String theory posits that gravitons and other particles
are tiny vibrating strings. But the five known versions of string
theory are all perturbative — they break down in some regimes.
In 1995, Edward Witten discovered the mother of all string
theories. He found various indications that the perturbative string
theories fit together into a theory he dubbed M-theory.
1997, Juan Maldacena discovered the AdS/CFT correspondence, which
gives a complete definition of M-theory for the special case of AdS
spacetime geometries. For such imaginary worlds, physicists can
describe processes at all energies, including black hole formation
M-theory is the leading TOE candidate. But
its strings and the compactified spatial dimensions that they
wriggle in are 10^15 times smaller than our experiments can resolve.
And some macroscopic signatures of the theory, such as cosmic
strings and supersymmetry, have not shown up.
Brexit — Departmental Disarray
UK secretary of state David Davis presides over
the Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU) with about 600
employees. But there is funding for an additional 143, and 44% of
the staff plan to leave within the next year. Around 9% of them are leaving every quarter, 4 times the civil service average and the
highest in Whitehall, except for the Cabinet Office.
Brexit — Impact Reports
MPs were left wondering why they bothered after 39 DExEU
sectoral reports were finally placed in the public domain. The
Commons Brexit select committee published them following weeks of
wrangling with the government.
The reports offer the insights
that all sectors of the economy rely on electricity, that Boeing and
Airbus manufacture aircraft, that postal services are visible and
valued by members of the public and businesses, and that space is a
DExEU spokesman: "Our analysis is not, nor
has it ever been, a series of impact assessments examining the
quantitative impact of the UK's exit on the 58 sectors. We are
undertaking a comprehensive programme of analytical work."
Brexit — Second Referendum
I have long believed that
referendums diminish democracies rather than empower them. In the UK,
our representative system allows us to avoid them. We elect and
pay our MPs to act on our behalf.
In most countries, if
referendums are to be binding, they are held with a supermajority
requirement. In the House of Commons, a two-thirds majority is
required for a general election to be called outside the fixed term
of a parliament. These supermajorities are an acknowledgment that a
simple majority is not enough to license significant societal
change, and to ensure legitimacy.
But as with nearly
everything connected with Brexit, none of this was thought through.
No supermajority requirement was built in, and three groups with a
material interest in the outcome — 16‑17 year olds, a large
percentage of expatriates, and EU citizens working and paying tax in
the UK — were not allowed to vote. Also, the poll was far too binary
and bereft of detail.
Even with these negatives, I have up
until now been against the idea of a second referendum. But I am
coming round to the idea. A second referendum could be avoided by a
2017 December 21
The Republican tax bill rewards wealth.
It is designed to ensure that corporate shareholders and private
business owners can pocket more US national income each year, before
passing it onto their children, with only the flimsiest economic
rationale to justify this.
The danger posed by accumulated
wealth is that when the rate of return on capital assets exceeds the
rate of economic growth, inequality is likely to increase. Growing
inequality paves the way for moneyed interests to prevail —
Jon Wade et al.
Water disappeared from the Martian
surface soon after its formation. Although Mars was lost some water
to space, the nature of its crust suggests that hydration reactions
led to sequestration of the crust.
Our calculations suggest
that over 9% by volume of the Martian mantle may contain hydrous
mineral species as a consequence of surface reactions, compared to
about 4% by volume of the Earth mantle. Martian crust is unlike
terrestrial crust, which becomes denser on dehydration, so early
Martian crust was buried under a lithosphere comprising a single
tectonic plate, with only the warmer, lower crust involved in mantle
The buried crust provided a sink for hydrospheric
water. On the early Earth, the upper mantle was less hydrated and
water was retained close to its surface. The water allowed the
evolution of life.
Joseph Conrad was feted in his lifetime as
the greatest writer of English-language fiction. His most widely
read novel, Heart of Darkness, is reset in the Vietnam war in the
movie Apocalypse Now.
Conrad's leading characters are almost
all white males, his women often little more than plot points.
All that Boy's Own stuff about courage and cowardice and honour and
the sea was far removed in sensibility and time from the raw
material of modern fiction.
Born in 1857 into the Polish
gentry of Russian Ukraine, Conrad was orphaned as a teenager and
eventually settled in England, where he rose through the ranks of
the merchant marine to become a captain. Long passages on clippers
to Australia, a stint on a tramp steamer sailing out of Singapore,
and a hellish cruise up and down the Congo river furnished the raw
experiences for his novels.
"Conrad promoted the values (as
he imagined them) of the szlachta [Polish landed gentry]
and the sailing ship; the dreams of the depressive who at once
depended on and doubted them; and the self-critical awareness of the
white man who traveled overseas and saw the limits of his own
society, even if he didn't enter into the possibilities of others."
2017 December 20
America vs China
People's Daily Online
The new US national security
strategy labels China as a rival power seeking to undermine US
national interests. The "America First" policy is all about
increasing competition between countries, and is based on the old
way of thinking that competition rather than cooperation defines the
current global environment.
The United States has not given
up its hegemonic ambitions and will do everything it can do to try
to ensure that world powers rise under the United States, and not
with it and never above it. It is determined to try to make the
global system better serve its own interests, rather than the
interests of the global community.
The strategy signals a
return to the dark time when zero-sum games defined world affairs.
It overemphasizes the competitive dimension of international
politics, and fails to lay out a road map to expand the space for
cooperation. The result is likely to be counterproductive to the
goal of making America great again.
The economies of China
and the United States are more complementary than competitive. In
2016, the volume of bilateral trade between the two countries
exceeded $550 billion, with two-way investment surpassing $200
billion. China remains committed to world peace, global development,
and international order.
Putting its own national interests
above the interests of the international community is selfish and
will isolate the United States. America should accept the rise of
China. It is high time for the United States to abandon its zero-sum
mentality and work with China on a common goal of prosperity and
progress for all.
China and the United States offer starkly
different visions for the future of global affairs. China has laid
out a vision and approach that features openness, inclusiveness, and
win-win cooperation. China is on the right side of history.
May vs Putin
Theresa May has accused the Kremlin of
interference in British democracy. Vladimir Putin detests NATO and
EU influence in countries that were formerly Soviet territory.
Undermining that influence is his goal.
The Brexit delusion
is that enslavement by Brussels inhibits a UK return to the global
first division. In the EU, Britain has benefited from aggregating
its middleweight power with Germany, France, and 25 other nations.
That is not a Brussels empire but a model of peaceful, collaborative
power without historical equal.
Brexit has already fractured
an alliance that will be hard to repair. May will never be a friend
of Putin, but she is committed to a policy he would choose for her
General relativity works well when
the quantum effects of spacetime are small, but when they become
large we need a theory of quantum gravity. We have several candidate
theories but none of them is generally accepted. Here are ten
1 In quantum
gravity we expect that spacetime will fluctuate wildly even in the
absence of matter. In the quantum world, the vacuum never rests, and
neither do space and time.
Quantum spacetime could be full of microscopic black holes. It could
have wormholes or give rise to baby universes, which are small
bubbles that pinch off from the mother universe.
3 And since this is a quantum theory,
spacetime could both create a baby universe and not create one at
the same time. The fabric of spacetime may be made of discrete
components that only look continuous at macroscopic scales.
4 In most approaches to quantum gravity,
spacetime is made of strings, loops, qubits, or some kind of
spacetime atoms. The individual constituents can only be resolved
when probed with extremely high energies, far beyond what we can
achieve on Earth.
5 In some of
the condensed-matter based approaches, spacetime can be elastic or
have viscosity. This might lead to observable consequences. We are
looking for such effects by studying messenger particles that reach
us from far away in the cosmos.
Spacetime might affect how light travels through it. It might not be
entirely transparent, or light of different colors might travel at
different speeds to cause dispersion. This too could be observable
in future experiments.
Spacetime fluctuations might destroy the ability of light from
distant sources to create interference patterns. This effect has
been looked for and not found so far in the visible range.
8 In regions of strong curvature, time
might turn into space. This could happen inside black holes or at
the big bang. In such a case, what we now know as a spacetime with
3D space and 1D time might transform into 4D Euclidean space.
9 Spacetime could be nonlocally
connected with tiny shortcuts spanning throughout the universe. Such nonlocal connections should exist if
structure is non-geometric, like a graph or network. In such
cases proximity is not fundamental but only derived, and it should
be possible for very distant places to be connected by accident.
10 To combine quantum theory with
gravity, we might have to update quantum theory. This might open
entirely new possibilities.
2017 December 19
The Germans are right: Economics is — or
should be — part of moral philosophy.
Successful politicians have to do more than just deliver economic
growth. They also need to offer voters a vision of the economy in
which virtue is rewarded and vice is punished. Since 2008, too many
politicians have lost it.
Until the financial crisis, a
free-market economy was held to reward effort and success and to
spread opportunity. Globalization was defended as a moral project,
since it involved reducing inequality and poverty across the world.
After the financial crisis, the globalists began to lose the
moral arguments. The fact that banks were bailed out as living
standards stagnated offended many voters. The door was opened for a
populist to say the system is rigged.
The economy is not just
about growth. It is also about justice.
UK Defence — F-35 Costs
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is one of the
most expensive projects in military history. The UK defence
committee said it was unacceptable for the Ministry of Defence to
keep parliament and the public in the dark about the costs.
The UK has bought 14 F-35 jets to fly from its new
aircraft carriers and plans to buy a further 124. A National Audit
Office report put the total UK cost of the program up to 2026 at
£9.1 billion. The MoD declined to offer even a rough figure beyond
The defence committee views the MoD failure to provide
cost estimates as unsatisfactory. It called on the MoD to provide
biannual updates on the F-35 program, including details of progress
on various identified problems.
In new work, ChunJun Cao and Sean
Carroll suggest that spacetime and gravity could emerge from quantum
Twenty years ago, Juan Maldacena discovered his
AdS/CFT duality between a theory of gravity for a volume of space
and a quantum field theory for the surface of the volume. Since
then, others have shown that the area of certain surfaces within
such a volume is related to the amount of quantum entanglement
between different regions in it. Changing the amount of entanglement
in the surface creates or destroys spacetime in the volume.
Cao and Carroll have tried to extract the kind of spacetime around
us — mostly flat but with small gravitational undulations — from
standard quantum mechanics.
They used a Hilbert space split
into tiny parts, each one corresponding to a point in 3D space, and
assumed that the closer these points are to each other, the greater
the entanglement between them. They also assumed that increasing the
entanglement in one region decreases it elsewhere, and vice versa.
They show that the equations governing the dynamics of entanglement
are similar to the equations of general relativity.
words, spacetime and gravity emerge from entanglement.
US National Security Strategy
The White House
Putting America first is the duty of our
government and the foundation for effective US leadership in the
world. Four vital national interests form the backbone of this
● Protect the
homeland, the American people, and the American way of life
● Promote American
● Preserve peace
● Advance American
This NSS is guided by a return to principled
realism. The strategy acknowledges the central role of power in
world affairs, affirms that sovereign states are the best hope for a
peaceful world, and clearly defines US national interests. It is
grounded in the knowledge that promoting American values is key to
spreading peace and prosperity around the globe.
Full report (68 pages)
Neuer Polizeipanzer in Leipzig: Das
Monogrammsticken der Sitzrückenlehnen ist ein mit Eichenlaub
und mit stilisierten Adlerschwingen flankiertes Wappen,
zusammen mit dem Frakturschriftzug
"Spezialeinsatzkommando Sachsen" — eine altbewährte Ästhetik.
that the value of UK GDP is
around 0.9% lower than
was possible if the UK had
to stay in the EU.
That equates to almost
exactly £350 million
a week lost to the
think the key national priority
right now is stopping Brexit.
I would put it above every-
thing else right now
for the country."
"The biggest idea in human
history is probably the
The EU has
the highest standard of living
in human history. People
longer, happier, healthier,
saner, safer, gentler lives than
anywhere else in the world ..
The biggest ideas in human
come from a fierce
belief in human possibility."
"To allow the market
mechanism to be the sole
director of the
human beings and their
natural environment ..
result in the
demolition of society."
2017 December 18
Brexit — Commons Statement
The guidelines published by President Tusk on
Friday point to the shared desire of the EU and the UK to make rapid
progress on an implementation period, with formal talks beginning
During this strictly time-limited implementation
period which we will now begin to negotiate, we would not be in the
single market or the customs union, as we will have left the EU. But
we would propose that our access to one another's markets would
continue as now, while we prepare and implement the new processes
and new systems that will underpin our future partnership.
During this period we intend to register new arrivals from the EU as
preparation for our future immigration system. And we will prepare
for our future independent trade policy by negotiating — and where
possible signing — trade deals with third countries, which could
come into force after the conclusion of the implementation period.
AR I fear this goes far beyond what
the EU can accept.
Born in 1749, Johann Wolfgang Goethe
became the national poet of a resurgent Germany. His collected works
fill 42 volumes. A new biography by Rüdiger Safranski is billed as
the first definitive biography in a generation.
portrays Goethe as a genius who was constantly reinventing himself.
Goethe revolted against the austere Lutheranism of his boyhood and
was a stranger to guilt. He believed nature was the only true
Goethe lived in Weimar and hero-worshiped Napoleon.
After the great German defeat at nearby Jena in 1806, Goethe was
impatient with people who "bewail an entity that has supposedly been
lost, an entity that not a soul in Germany has ever seen in his
life" — their freedom.
Friedrich Nietzsche: "Goethe is the
last German before whom I feel reverence."
AR I greatly enjoyed
of Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Heidegger.
2017 December 17
1 Populism is neither the authentic part
of modern democratic politics nor a kind of pathology caused by
irrational citizens. It is the permanent shadow of representative
2 Not everyone who
criticizes elites is a populist. In addition to being anti-elitist,
populists are anti-pluralist. They claim that they and they alone
represent the people.
can represent the common good as willed by the people. But what
matters for populists is a symbolic representation of the real
people from which they then deduce the correct policy.
4 While populists often call for
referenda, such exercises are not about initiating open democratic
debates. Populists simply wish to be confirmed in what they have
already determined the real will be the people to be.
5 Populists can govern in line with
their commitment to the idea that only they represent the people.
They will engage in occupying the state, mass clientelism and
corruption, and the suppression of a critical civil society.
6 Populists are a real danger to
democracy. But that does not mean one should not engage them in
political debate. Talking with populists is not the same as talking
7 Populism is not
a corrective to liberal democracy in the sense of bringing politics
closer to the people or reasserting popular sovereignty. But it can
be useful in showing that parts of the population are
2017 December 16
As a professor, I believe academics should
think afresh about how we train our graduate students. Doctoral
study should not be aimed purely at creating academics. Ours is a
connected globe, and we need to reform doctoral education with this
Tests show that college students leave college
unready for decent jobs. But humans are not things. The role of
doctoral study is to equip academically very smart students to be
many things, potentially, over the course of their lives.
Professors are decathletes of the mind. A marketing professional
would describe them as expert speakers, media design technicians,
project managers, and more. We design and run research projects, run
budgets, hire staff, build networks, and stump for funding.
Faculty life requires many more practical skills than the title
Doctor of Philosophy suggests. We must be more honest about this. We
need our best and brightest to make their knowledge useful to the
world and to society.
The universe is made of matter and not
antimatter, even though the laws of nature appear symmetric between
the two. It seems to have about five times as much dark matter as
all the normal matter we see. And we need dark energy to add up to
more than all the rest combined. Three puzzles — the neutrino might
explain them all.
The standard model of particle physics has
six flavors of quarks and leptons, their antiparticles, the gauge
bosons, and the Higgs, but leaves the mystery of why the particle
masses have the values they do. The standard model of cosmology has
an inflationary big bang, matter and not antimatter, and a history
of structure formation that leads to the modern universe, but leaves
the mysteries of dark matter and dark energy.
oscillations — where neutrinos flip between flavors as they fly through space — imply that neutrinos have a small mass. We see
neutrinos with left spin and anti-neutrinos with right
spin. A symmetry would give an equal balance of left and right
spins. The asymmetry suggests that neutrinos are not normal Dirac
fermions but Majorana fermions, which are their own antiparticles.
Normal left and right neutrinos might both have a mass of around
100 GeV. A heavy particle could break the symmetry to give a right
neutrino with a huge mass of around 10^15 GeV and a left neutrino
with a tiny mass of around 0.01 eV. The huge-mass neutrinos could be
the cold dark matter candidates known as Wimpzillas. The tiny-mass
neutrinos could be the ones we detect. More:
• The vacuum energy of the universe suggests a cosmological
constant of around (10^19 GeV)^4, which is too big by about 120
orders of magnitude. But if you replace 10^19 GeV with the neutrino mass of
0.01 eV, you get a number that matches nicely. This
• The broken symmetry gives more matter than antimatter in the universe. Mixed-state neutrinos
can create more leptons than anti-leptons in the neutrino
sector, giving rise to a cosmic asymmetry.
• Neutrinoless double beta decay would tell us that neutrinos have Majorana
properties. Such decay, if it exists, has a very long lifetime, but
future experiments should be able to measure it.
In the standard model, matter and
antimatter particles carry opposite electrical charge. When matter
and antimatter particles collide, they annihilate in a flash of
radiation. The big bang should have produced equal amounts of matter
and antimatter. But a small fraction of the original matter survived
to form the known universe.
Matter and antimatter might decay
differently. This would violate charge-parity (CP) symmetry, which
conserves the laws of physics if matter particles swap with their
antiparticles (charge) in mirror reflection (parity). Many
physicists think CP is violated in the neutrino sector — explaining
why we are made of matter.
2017 December 15
To taste a future without net neutrality, try
browsing the web in Beijing. Filtered by the Great Firewall of
China, some sites load with aching slowness, or not at all, and
content vanishes without warning or explanation. Most Chinese
netizens simply gravitate to the Chinese counterparts of Facebook,
Google, and Twitter, which come with heavy government surveillance
Markets vs Democracy
Democracy and capitalism seem increasingly
incompatible. Global capitalism has escaped the bounds of the
postwar mixed economy that had reconciled dynamism with security.
Wealth has crowded out citizenship, producing extreme inequality and
The great prophet of this
development was Karl Polanyi, who saw that market society could only
exist because of deliberate government action defining property
rights, terms of labor, trade, and finance. Today, we see a push for
deregulated trade and the dismantling of labor market safeguards to
increase profits for multinational corporations.
born in 1886 in Vienna to an illustrious Jewish family. In 1904, he
began studies at the University of Budapest. After WW1, he became an
economics journalist. He was a left-wing social democrat and a
lifelong skeptic of the possibility that a capitalist society would
ever tolerate a hybrid economic system.
Living in Red Vienna,
Polanyi saw that an island of municipal socialism could not survive
larger market turbulence and rising fascism. In 1933, he moved to
London and found work sponsored by Oxford University. There he
watched history demonstrate that an unrestrained free market leads
to democratic breakdown.
After WW2, Polanyi worked in
America. He showed that the free market is no natural condition and
that democracy cannot survive an excessively free market. Today he
would say Brexit and Trump show capitalism has won and democracy has
Democrat defeats tainted
candidate backed by Trump
for Alabama Senator
Rebels defy May government
to force meaningful
Brexit deal before too late.
In my 1996 novel
I mooted laser battlestations
N and S poles of the
Moon to fire off at
ANN Helps NASA Find Planet
The NASA Kepler Space Telescope has discovered an
eighth planet circling Kepler-90, a Sun-like star 2545 light years
from Earth. Kepler-90i, a hot, rocky planet that orbits its star
once every 14.4 days, was found using machine learning from Google.
A Google artificial neural network (ANN) sifted through Kepler
data and found weak transit signals from a previously missed eighth
planet orbiting Kepler-90. About 30% larger than Earth, Kepler-90i
is so close to its star that its average surface temperature exceeds
700 K, like the hot side of Mercury. The outermost planet,
Kepler-90h, orbits as far from Kepler-90 as Earth does from the Sun.
The Kepler dataset consists of 35 000 possible planetary
signals. After gazing at one patch of space for 4 years, Kepler now
switches its field of view every 80 days.
2017 December 14
We all know men who try to seduce a lot of
women and often enough succeed. In the past, we accepted them as
part of the normal order of things. No one we knew disapproved of
premarital sex, homosexuality, or any private activity between
Whatever lies ahead of us, new rules
couched in the language of safety and respect will regulate us. You will have to seek verbal consent before you kiss a woman or touch
her in a sensitive place, or anywhere. Anyone can adapt to this new
There has never been a good defense of sleeping with
interns or junior employees. Such eroticism sours everything it
touches and creates a poisonous dynamic for all workers. The logical
outcome is adoption of affirmative consent as the norm governing
relations between the sexes.
Sex is an intractable conundrum
rather than a solvable problem. There may be no good way to render
safe and tractable the will to domination and subordination that
feminists see as bound up in sexual desire. Nothing is so dangerous
as power that is not acknowledged.
2017 December 13
Russia vs America
United States intelligence officers agree
that Russians interfered in the 2016 presidential election.
Russian hackers breached the servers of the Democratic National
Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. They
leaked the data they found, they probed the voting infrastructure of
various US states, and they quietly posted divisive content on
Facebook. Their aim was to embarrass and damage Hillary Clinton, to
sow dissension, and to show that democracy in America is at least as
corrupt as in Russia.
In October 2016, the Department of
Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National
Intelligence said they were confident that the Russian government
had directed the compromises of emails from US political
organizations with the aim of interfering with the US election
At the 2007 Munich Conference on Security Policy,
Russian president Vladimir Putin explained his motivation. Two
decades earlier, the world was ideologically and economically split,
and its security was assured by the strategic balance of two
superpowers. But a unipolar world dominated only by America had
nothing to do with democracy. The new order was both unacceptable
and ineffective. The time had come to rethink the entire
architecture of global security.
Putin has spent the decade
since that speech making sure that the United States can never again
maneuver unilaterally without encountering friction. He evidently
believes that in their attempts to promote democracy, Americans are
The victory of Donald Trump seemed to be a
great coup for Putin. But it left us all in danger.
2017 December 12
In Arthur C. Clarke's 1973 science fiction classic
Rendezvous with Rama, astronomers detect a cylindrical
interstellar object entering the solar system. At first they think
is an asteroid, but then they find it is an alien spacecraft.
Science fact, 2017: Astronomers thought it was a comet or an
asteroid from within the solar system. But after studying its orbit
and discovering its long, cylindrical shape, they find it is neither
and has come from interstellar space.
Oumuamua was discovered
by a team at the University of Hawaii in October. It seems to have a
cylindrical form, hundreds of meters long and perhaps tens in
diameter, that has never been seen in space before.
— up to 90 km/s — suggests that it will continue its voyage back
into interstellar space. Six weeks of study shows it is not made of
ice and is dark red in color. SETI researchers will seek to detect
evidence of alien technology in its EM emissions.
Harvard astrophysicist Avi Loeb: "If this object is natural in
origin, there should be many more like it in the solar system .. and
even if most of them are natural, perhaps one of them will be found
to be of artificial origin, some space device or junk from an alien
NASA Moon Base
President Trump has directed NASA to aim
for the Moon: "This time, we will not only plant our flag and leave
our footprint. We will establish a foundation for an eventual
mission to Mars and perhaps, someday, to many worlds beyond."
US vice president Mike Pence said a strategic military presence
on the Moon will "enhance our national security and our capacity to
provide for the common defense of the people of the United States of
2017 December 11
Descrying the Divine
Where landscapes are untapped and
unmanageable, where survival and well-being are irrational factors,
state power becomes a sanctuary. This applied everywhere in the
ancient world and still applies today in Russia, with its huge,
poorly developed, sparsely and unevenly populated space. Above all,
the king must be able to communicate with those powers that the
human being cannot control or grasp rationally. He has to
communicate with the divine. Putin is our president.
AR The One.
Germany — Coalition Options
German chancellor Angela Merkel
spent two months mulling a potential government coalition — then the
Free Democrats walked out. The Social Democrats decided to enter
talks — then SPD leader Martin Schulz said he wants a United States
of Europe by 2025. Talks could continue well into 2018.
Foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel said last week that Europeans will
have to stand up to the Trump administration and accept that America
sees Europe as a competitor. He floated a new detente with Russia
but ignored a promised increase in German defense spending. The
world is waiting.
Die Mühlen der Demokratie mahlen langsam aber
Defending the Faith
Prince Charles is the heir apparent
while the Queen remains the UK sovereign. His coronation is likely
to raise questions about institutional links between church,
monarchy, and parliament. The monarch is crowned and anointed by the
Archbishop of Canterbury at Westminster Abbey.
One in four
countries worldwide had a state religion in 2011. Of those, only the
UK and Iran have religious leaders in their legislatures by right.
In the UK, 26 Church of England bishops have reserved seats in the
House of Lords. The UK monarch is supreme governor of the Church of
England and Defender of the Faith.
From a new report by the National Secular Society: "The voices
of religious privilege are loud and their vested interests are
strong. But .. if Britain is to become a modern state rather than
one in which parliament continues to cleave to its medieval past,
then the separation of church and state needs to be part of the
AR Rebrand Britain
the United Sovereign Secular Republic.
Brexit — Second Referendum
Conservatives bent on delivering what they think is the "will of
the people" are deluded if they expect any thanks. Brexit is a Tory
project and most voters now think the talks are going badly. The
Conservative reputation will be hard to win back.
believe that a trade agreement can be completed in two years. Voters
will likely feel as if they are still in the EU by the next
election. To avoid annihilation, the Tories should try to get a good
deal and then put it to a public vote.
A new poll finds that more than half of
voters support a referendum on the EU exit package. The government
is in disarray and disagrees on most issues related to Brexit. The
only way to resolve this is to put the decision back to the people.
Today I publish a bill that aims to give voters the final say on
Brexit. The government would let the people choose between its
negotiated deal and the option of reversing article 50 and remaining
in the EU. This honours the will of the people.
AR Do it.
2017 December 10
I think science will hit the buffers at some
point. The question of how far science can go partly depends on how
we define complexity. Atoms and astronomical phenomena can be quite
basic, but everything in between gets tricky.
Most complex of all are living things. Everything is made of
atoms, and obeys the laws of quantum physics. But even if those
equations could be solved for immense aggregates of atoms, living
systems manifest emergent properties that are best understood in
terms of new concepts.
We can expect huge advances on the
small, the large, and the complex. But efforts to understand complex
systems, such as our own brains, might well hit limits. And
physicists might never understand the bedrock nature of space and
time because the mathematics is just too hard.
thinking has led to culture and science. But this activity will
probably be a brief precursor to the more powerful intellects of the
post-human era. A full understanding of physical reality need not be
within our grasp.
The four forces of
nature, the particles, and the phenomena they explain. The atomic
and nuclear interactions are unified
in the standard model using
quantum field theory. Gravity is described by general relativity.
But QFT and GR are incompatible without a quantum theory of gravity.
Ode to Joy
"We must build a kind of
United States of Europe"
"Trump is a chump .. he is
ignorant and thinks the world
started the day he was elected,
and so he is easily gamed."
Thomas L. Friedman
Person of the Year
2017-10-04: Erik Verlinde suggests that gravity emerges from
entropy. There are well known relationships between thermodynamics
and GR. The laws of thermodynamics emerge from statistical
mechanics, and perhaps gravity emerges similarly.
uses ideas from string theory to relate quantum information theory
and the emergence of gravity and spacetime. The basic idea is that
fundamental qubits possess temperature and entropy, and that
everything else about gravitation can be derived from that.
He says we may need to work with qubits to understand gravity.
Entropy is the total number of bits of information in a system, or
qubits in a quantum world. QFT describes how the surface area of a
black hole event horizon measured in qubits is proportional to its
He says entangled qubits may explain dark matter.
Entanglement increases as the universe expands. The entropy of the
universe from photons is about 10^90 bits. From the size of the
cosmological horizon, he says it should be 10^120 bits. This is all very
2017 December 9
Big Old Black Hole
The discovery of a supermassive black hole
in the early universe is helping us resolve big questions. The black
hole dates back to 690 million years after the Big Bang (My ABB).
Reionization, the process that defogged the universe, was about half
complete at that time. The black hole already weighed 780 million
Black holes grow when cosmic matter falls into
them, generating light and heat. At some point, the radiation
emitted by material falling in carries out so much momentum that it
blocks new stuff from falling in, creating a speed limit for black
hole growth called the Eddington rate. Extrapolating back at the
Eddington rate, collapsing clouds in the early universe gave birth
to big baby black holes with thousands of solar masses.
earlier, when protons and electrons first formed hydrogen atoms, the
neutral atoms absorbed UV light from the first stars. In time, young
stars or quasars emitted enough light to reionize these atoms and
dissipate the cosmic fog. Reionization was largely complete by
around 1 Gy ABB.
The gas around the newly discovered quasar
is about half neutral, half ionized. So there, at least,
reionization was only half done. We could use more data.
2017 December 8
United States of Europe
I want a new constitutional treaty to
establish the United States of Europe — a Europe that is no threat
to its member states, but a beneficial addition.
will draft this treaty in close cooperation with the civil society
and the people. Its results will then be submitted to all member
states. Any state that does not ratify the treaty will automatically
leave the EU.
We need not a European austerity diktat but
investments in a eurozone budget. We need a European finance
minister who curbs the race to the bottom in tax policy and ends tax
avoidance. We need a European framework for a minimum wage that ends
We have not yet answered the question what
social democracy stands for in the 21st century.
"The Federated Republic of Europe — the United States of Europe —
that is what must be. National autonomy no longer suffices. Economic
evolution demands the abolition of national frontiers. If Europe is
to remain split into national groups, then imperialism will
recommence its work. Only a Federated Republic of Europe can give
peace to the world."
Brexit — Sufficient Progress
Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker met
in Brussels early today to sign a 15-page progress report that will
let EU negotiators recommend opening a second phase of talks on
● Citizen rights: EU
citizens living in the UK and UK nationals living in the EU will be
able to claim permanent residency status through transparent, smooth
and streamlined procedures. Primacy of the ECJ interpretation of EU
citizen rights laws will continue indefinitely.
● Irish border: A
fallback provision to avoid a hard border between the Republic of
Ireland and Northern Ireland ensures full alignment with the EU
single market and customs union. The EU has accepted UK assurances
and talks can move on.
● Divorce settlement:
The UK will pay into the EU budgets for 2019 and 2020 as if it had
remained in the bloc. It will also contribute its share of the
financing for any EU liabilities incurred before the end of 2020. The UK can expect a net bill of
2017 December 7
Trump — Courage
For decades, the international community has
tacitly acknowledged that Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish
state. Now US President Donald Trump wants to move the US embassy to
The previous refusal of US administrations to
recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel has brought peace no
closer. Experts warn that the Muslim world will never accept this
and Muslim leaders warn that it will end the peace process. What
Trump has made it clear that the
recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the transfer
of the embassy to Jerusalem is not a preliminary decision regarding
the final status of the city and the future borders between Israel
and a Palestinian state.
Israel will never renounce Jerusalem as
its capital. The Arab campaign against Jerusalem as the capital of
the Jewish state is only part of the Arab struggle against the
reality of Israel. Anyone who does not even acknowledge its
existence has no right to protest against Jerusalem as its capital.
Trump is right: Twenty years of denial have not brought peace
closer. Time to move on.
Brexit — Lessons
For the UK, Brexit talks have been a
humiliating rendezvous with reality. Rule Britannia platitudes
fizzled on contact with the facts of life:
1 A fundamental
asymmetry unbalances the negotiation. The cost of failure is
proportionately much higher for the UK than for the EU27.
Westminster politicians have not grasped that the EU is a union
built on laws. A bespoke deal translates into German as cherry
3 The sovereign right to wave goodbye to
a morass of regulatory agencies is the sovereignty of the person
shipwrecked on a desert island.
4 Access to the single market for a
transitional period after departure will oblige the UK to continue
to respect all the rules.
5 The only framework on offer for a
future trade deal will be one that complies with the principle that benefits are restricted to members.
decided unilaterally to leave the EU. The EU27 will now decide what
agreement it is prepared to make with a third country.
AR Eat dirt, Brexit blowhards.
A Russian Soyuz/Fregat launch from the
Vostochny Cosmodrome failed last week.
Deputy prime minister
Dmitry Rogozin is coming under criticism.
Zero plays superhuman
chess after teaching itself from
scratch, starting from random
play, given only the game
in 24 hours.
Buy now for Xmas
2017 December 6
Islamist crazies will see this as a declaration of war.
Brexit — Outline Betrayal
The capitulation of the Brexiteers is striking.
They are displaying all the iron discipline of a sect that believes
it is tantalisingly close to reaching its holy grail. For them, all
that matters is to drag the country across the legal finishing line
in March 2019. Then there is no turning back from Brexit.
reach their promised land, the Brexiteers in Westminster intend to
deliver to the UK parliament a mere "Heads of Agreement" governing
the future relations between the UK and the EU. The details of that
future relationship will be left to further negotiations. The
Brexiteers calculate that an outline deal, bereft of the invidious
content that a proper agreement would include, is the ideal document
to put to parliament.
But this is not what the British people
were promised. The government said parliament will be able to vote
on both the terms of our departure and the terms of our future
interaction with the EU. It would be a betrayal if MPs were fobbed
off with the outline of an agreement shorn of all detail.
Brexit — Crisis Warning
Brexit Secretary David Davis says Brexit will
be a change comparable with the 2008 financial crisis.
before the Brexit select committee where he said Whitehall had
carried out no Brexit impact assessments, Davis said of Brexit: "It
will have an effect. The assessment of that effect is not as
straightforward as people imagine. I'm not a fan of economic models
because they have all proven wrong. When you have a paradigm change
— as happened in 2008 with the financial crisis — all the models
The 2008 financial crisis cost the UK economy up
to £7.4 trillion and led to a decade of austerity.
AR Abandon this hideous farce before HMS
2017 December 5
The Irish Question
Ireland is proving to be in a much
stronger political position than Britain. The UK is being forced to
accept what it claimed to be unacceptable, not because Ireland has
suddenly become a global superpower but because it has the
unflinching support of EU member states, the European parliament,
and the EU negotiating team. There might be a lesson in there
somewhere for a country facing a future without the allies it has
long taken for granted.
The human brain is a pudding of some 100
billion neurons and 100 trillion connections between them, packed
into a space of about 1.5 liters. Language and cooperation likely
worked together to drive the evolutionary growth of our brains.
Edward O. Wilson argues that Homo sapiens is a species that
ranks as eusocial, like bees, ants, and so on. We cooperate and
display group loyalty, to the point where the group essentially
operates as a unit of evolutionary selection.
waged a public battle against the importance of inclusive fitness,
which researchers have long cited to explain such behaviors as
altruism, homosexuality, even suicide. Wilson says the math is
2017 December 4
Brexit — No Deal on Trade Talks
UK prime minister Theresa May and European
Commission president Jean Claude Juncker say progress has been made
but differences remain.
Juncker: "It was not possible to
reach complete agreement today."
Apparently the UK is
prepared to accept that Northern Ireland may remain in the EU
customs union and single market in all but name. But the DUP will
not back any agreement that threatens the territorial integrity of
the UK. And Scottish, Welsh, and London leaders want an offer of
similar exceptional status after Brexit.
Surrounded by books has been a main
circumstance of my long life. Now 93, I have a library of perhaps
18,000 books in my house in Chester County, Pennsylvania. I was born
in Budapest, Hungary, in a home that housed many books.
about 1500 a new age began — the Age of Books. A golden age
followed. Today, few people know that the modern age, the Age of
Books, is now passing.
The modern age brought progress and a
transition from aristocracies to democracies. Public opinion had a
heyday in most of Europe and in America corresponding to the heyday
of the Age of Books. The health of democracies depended on the
existence of educated readers.
As a boy, I had an appetite
for history and literature. I saw that history was more of an art
than a science and, later, that science was but a part of history. I
survived the National Socialist and then the Russian conquest of
Hungary in 1944 and 1945, and fled my native country illegally in
I landed in New York penniless and forlorn, and became
an assistant lecturer in history at Columbia University. There I was
surprised at how many American students hardly read books at all.
Over roughly 50 years, I wrote and had many books published.
Many were published in multiple editions, translated and published
around the world. My own library grew, and we added a large
hexagonal library to our house. Perhaps this was my most precious
Today, the custom of reading and the numbers of
readers have declined. The Age of Books died with television and the
2017 December 3
Neoliberalism is broken. The global economic
system that drove growth and technological progress from 1989 to
2008 led to financial catastrophe. Now many people see the elites
getting richer and know their kids will be poorer.
alliance of the elite and the mob is emerging in which xenophobia,
violent misogyny, and racism support political power. The far right
and the conservative parties are converging around national
neoliberalism. It will not work.
We must stop nudging and
forcing market behavior into the lives of people and start letting
them express their human and collaborative impulse. We need a new
economic model with a narrative of hope and a social movement to
fight for it.
In the UK, Labour developed a narrative beyond
politics. We need to go further to gain cultural hegemony in the
wider society. We must offer a clear economic alternative to
● End austerity.
● Regulate the labor market to
promote the interests of workers.
● Build new homes for young
people on a massive scale.
● Use state intervention to
promote an innovative, high wage private sector.
● Modernize and extend the
● Build a utopia based on
work, with state provision of cheap or free basic goods and
● End the tyranny of trade
deals over social justice.
We need a new concept of
citizenship in Europe. It is hard to defend migration using the EU
concept of citizenship as primarily economic. The constitution of
Europe is framed around an economic system that no longer works.
Neoliberalism is the disenchantment of politics by economics.
Right wing populism is the re-enchantment of politics by
nationalism, racism, nostalgia, and misogyny. Radical social
democracy must re-enchant politics by social justice and a more
fully human concept of citizenship.
Minus the red balls, there is a lot of truth in this
2017 December 2
Math and Physics
Minhyong Kim has found a new way of
looking for patterns in the world of rational numbers. His vision is
based in physics — rational solutions are like light rays.
Rational solutions to equations are like puzzle pieces falling
perfectly into place. They are the subject of many of the most
famous conjectures in mathematics. We often wish to find rational
numbers that solve Diophantine equations — polynomial equations with
The more symmetric an object is, the
easier it is to study. We would like to study Diophantine equations
in a setting with more symmetry than the one where the problem
naturally occurs. Then we can harness the newly relevant symmetries
to track down the rational points we seek.
Numbers that have
particular kinds of symmetry relationships form groups. We use the
properties of a group to understand all the numbers it contains. But
the set of rational solutions to an equation has no symmetry and
forms no group.
A space is any set of points that has
geometric or topological structure. In general relativity, we think
of each spacetime configuration as a point in a space of all
spacetime configurations. Gauge theory has to do with fields that we
layer on top of physical space to describe how forces change as you
move through space.
Consider a beam of light. We imagine the
light moving through a higher-dimensional space of fields. In this
space, light follows the path that minimizes the amount of time
required to go from A to B.
These larger spaces of spaces
that come up in physics feature additional symmetries that are not
present in any of the spaces they represent. These symmetries draw
attention to specific points, such as the time-minimizing path for
light. Constructed in another way in another context, such
symmetries might emphasize other kinds of points — like the points
corresponding to rational solutions to equations.
theory has something like spacetime, and it also offers a way of
drawing paths and constructing a space of all possible paths. From
this basic correspondence, Kim is working out a scheme in which the
problem of finding the trajectory of light and that of finding
rational solutions to Diophantine equations are two facets of the
same problem — as he explained last week in Heidelberg, Germany.
AR Some 27 years ago in Heidelberg,
I published a pamphlet listing advanced math and physics texts and
emphasizing the amazingly fruitful interaction of math and physics
over recent centuries.
2017 December 1
Six impossible things before breakfast:
1 The British system
of free trade made Britain and the world richer. The EU system that
replaced it has constrained economic growth.
● The volume of world trade is twice
as high, relative to global output, now as at its peak before WW1.
Global output per head rose at 1.3% a year between 1870 and 1914,
well below the 1.9% achieved between 1980 and 2008.
2 The UK can have its cake on access to
EU markets and still eat it. The EU will accept new UK
after Brexit as equivalent to its own.
● The cake would either nullify UK
regulatory freedom or subvert EU regulations. The EU would surely
reject UK changes.
3 WTO members
are panting for UK leadership.
● Donald Trump is a protectionist
and the WTO has made no big trade deal since 2001.
4 The UK must soon leave the single
market and customs union in order to liberalise world trade.
● This ignores the costs of losing
favourable access to the single market and it reflects an entirely
unjustifiable belief in UK influence on global trade policy.
5 The government must instruct UK
customs to talk to member state customs agencies and work
cooperation with the EU27.
● The UK has no means to break EU27
6 The UK should not
let itself be bound by the EU negotiating mandate.
● The EU holds the cards and it
Do Brextremists really believe all six?
The Special Relationship
The British obsession about its special
relationship with America blew up the storm over Donald Trump's
Furious Brits demanded once again
that the US state visit should be expunged from the diary. If it
were not for the special relationship, the UK prime minister might
not have felt the need to condemn the US president in a public
utterance. But with a state visit on the cards she had little
France and Germany have more freedom in their US
relations without a special relationship. Angela Merkel talked about
defending European values on her visit to see the new president.
Emmanuel Macron entertained Vladimir Putin at Versailles and hosted
the Trumps at the Bastille Day parade.
A special relationship
is a lopsided arrangement that allows the UK to fantasize about
global power and influence.
Six Minutes in May
Nicholas Shakespeare brings tension to an
old story by understanding its human drama. His account of the
Norway Debate in May 1940 is a bravura performance, painting a vivid
backdrop that explains the meetings that made Churchill prime
minister two days later.
The six minutes of
the title refer to the length of the parliamentary division that
split the Tories and pushed Chamberlain to the brink. Shakespeare
brings the story to life. The story of Churchill's accession to
power on the day that Hitler's armies entered the Low Countries and
set course for France has never been infused with so much humanity.
Shakespeare's piercing account of the disastrous Norway campaign
that opens the book lays bare Churchill's failings and makes all the
more engrossing the political chaos from which he finally emerged
AR I am currently
reading the book.